My first prediction of the 2008-09 NBA season is that the New York Knicks will be pretty good. Not a title contender or anything, but not a disaster. A bottom-level playoff team, let's say that.
The Knicks hired former Phoenix Suns coach Mike D'Antoni this week, and immediately some New York papers and fans labeled it a bad fit.
D'Antoni's an offensive-minded coach? Great. So was Isiah Thomas. And it's defense that wins championships. What the Knicks needed after the defensive indifference of the Zeke era was a tough discipline and defense guy.
New Knicks boss Donnie Walsh has been saying that the goal will be to clear cap space over the next two years so the Knicks can compete for the presumptive big free-agent prize of 2010, LeBron James. And if they lose out on James, there figure to be some nice backup choices, headed by Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Chris Paul, assuming no intervening contract extensions.
So why bring in a win-now type coach like D'Antoni, who said at his introduction, "My focus is to win this coming year"?
Because D'Antoni can win now -- and he can do it in a highly entertaining, fan-friendly manner, which is just what the floating calamity that is the Knicks needs about now.
Sure, the personnel's all wrong. That's true of any team that has Stephon Marbury on it, as D'Antoni already showed he understands when he jettisoned Starbury from the actual desert of Arizona to the virtual one above Penn Station. But there are sufficient players to implement D'Antoni's up-tempo offense, defense if you get around to it style sufficiently to compete, and it only takes a couple of waiver-wire moves to change the personality of a team.
The reason I think this'll all work is that I think pace is the Eastern Conference's market inefficiency. The Eastern Conference plays a slower game than the West. Simply by getting out and running, D'Antoni's Knicks can win a lot of games in the conference in the regular season, when teams aren't all that interested in keeping up.
It won't work in the playoffs, but that's OK. It didn't work in the playoffs in Phoenix either. It doesn't have to, not for a couple of years anyway. Look at Oakland, which has become a feel-good, house-is-rockin' stronghold in the last two years since Don Nelson came back to town with his big box of track shoes.
After seven years of often hideous losing, two years of that sort of thing ought to be just enough to keep them smiling in the Big Apple.
And then it'll be time to go after the big fish. It's a good plan.