Mike D'Antoni strolled outside Madison Square Garden on Tuesday afternoon, working the Seventh Avenue end on a brilliant New York day flanked by photographers and the usual MSG gatekeepers. He was all smiles on Day 1 as coach of the Knicks, posing for photos with the former home of basketball greatness lurking over his shoulder.
"Playoffs, playoffs!" a fan shouted in D'Antoni's direction, offering a thumbs-up to go with the ultimatum. "We need the playoffs!" So does D'Antoni. The obvious questions are, how bad -- and how soon -- does he need them? If you can excuse Knicks president Donnie Walsh for slipping up and introducing the new coach as "D'Antonio" on Tuesday, everyone said all the right things. They always do on days like this.
D'Antoni said he'll adjust to the roster. Walsh all but swore that he won't botch it up with more bad contracts. That way, he'll be able to follow through on his promise to get the Knicks under the salary cap by 2010 and make a serious run at unrestricted free agent LeBron James.
Hiring D'Antoni might be the easiest decision Walsh will make as long as he has this job. The harder choices begin now, and they're the same ones Scott Layden and Isiah Thomas had to grapple with once all the warmth and fuzziness and Seventh Avenue photo ops were over for them.
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The true test will be whether Walsh and D'Antoni can avoid the same di$ea$e that eventually infected Layden and struck a fatal blow to Thomas. MSG-itis has long incapacitated previously intelligent basketball men and intoxicated them with the notion that unlimited resources lead to winning.
They deserve the benefit of the doubt. But I'd just like to point out one troubling sign that has jumped out at me in the days since D'Antoni's four-year, $24-million deal was consummated Saturday.
One of the key reasons D'Antoni has given dubious confidants for why he said yes to the Knicks was that pesky little word again: "resources." Layden and Thomas had the same resources, and look what happened to them.
"It's how wisely you spend those resources," a person close to D'Antoni said Tuesday, before unwittingly making my point for me.
"Obviously, the next regime always thinks they're smarter than the last one."
Larry Brown, a Hall of Fame coach, won 23 games here with unlimited resources. So did Thomas, a Hall of Fame player who made the playoffs three straight years coaching for Walsh in Indiana. And so it goes.
We will find out during the next two years just how smart and resistant D'Antoni and Walsh really are.
HORNETS 101, SPURS 79, at New Orleans -- David West had career playoff highs of 38 points, 14 rebounds and five blocked shots, guiding New Orleans past San Antonio for a 3-2 series lead. The Hornets, who have never advanced past the second round of the playoffs, can eliminate the defending champions with a win either in Game 6 on Thursday in San Antonio or Game 7 on Monday in New Orleans.
PISTONS 91, MAGIC 86, at Auburn Hills, Mich. -- Richard Hamilton scored 19 of his 31 points in the first half to help Detroit defeat Orlando and reach the Eastern Conference finals for a sixth consecutive year.
TOP ROOKIES -- Al Horford and Rookie of the Year Kevin Durant headlined the NBA All-Rookie team. Atlanta's Horford was the only unanimous choice with 58 votes, followed by Seattle's Durant with 57 in balloting by the league's head coaches. Full teams on Page C-5.