Mike D’Antoni is a basketball genius. He is the Picasso of offensive basketball, the Ayatollah of up-tempo fast break excitement. Mike D’Antoni has restored basketball interest in the Phoenix Suns, like few before him have been able to do. But wait, D’Antoni is apparently headed for greener pastures and the fans are left wondering what went wrong. And the fans better be wondering because the Suns opportunity to win a championship has now passed. Before I dissect what went wrong, let’s look at D’Antoni’s four years at the helm of the Suns:
D’Antoni’s Suns Coaching Record
2004-05: 62-20 (.756)
2005-06: 54-28 (.659)
2006-07: 61-21 (.744)
2007-08: 55-27 (.671)
As if this were not enough to convince even the most passive fan that D’Antoni is one of the top two or three coaches in the league, consider the following list of all time best season records in the 40 year history of the Suns.
The Three Best Suns Seasons
1992-93: 62-20, .756 (Paul Westphal)
2004-05: 62-20, .756 (Mike D'Antoni)
2006-07: 61-21, .744 (Mike D'Antoni)
Is there anything else that needs to be said? I think there needs to be a lot said so the Suns fans can have a better understanding of what lies ahead under the extreme mismanagement of team owner, Robert Sarver, and the new fledgling General Manager, Steve Kerr.
Being a converted Suns fan, I am still trying to forget the coaching debacles of former Suns coaches Scott Skiles, Frank Johnson and Danny Ainge. Under this trio of coaches, failures were many and fan disappointment was at an all time high. Then enter Suns General Manager, Bryan Colangelo, and the mad professor of up-tempo basketball, Mike D’Antoni. Mike D’Antoni’s “7 seconds or less style” quickly became the darling of the media and a fan favorite all around the world. For the last 4 years, the Suns were considered to be the most exciting team in all of basketball. Given the string of consecutive home game sellouts, the Phoenix fans must agree with this statement.
If D’Antoni is so great why in his four years have the Suns not won a championship? Two glaring incidents come to mind. First, former Suns star guard, Joe Johnson, broke his eye socket in the playoffs and the Suns just fell short in the playoffs against the Dallas Mavericks. The Joe Johnson injury cannot be overstated. Second, there is the infamous bench incident when San Antonio cheap shot artist, Robert Horry, pummeled Suns all-star guard, Steve Nash. Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diow rushed off the bench and came to Nash’s aid. Despite not being involved in any further altercation, Stoudemire and Diaw were suspended by the league for leaving the bench during an altercation. Of course, NBA Commissioner, David Stern, makes up his own rules as he goes (mostly based on anticipated TV ratings),. In a recent Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks playoff game, Celtics star center, Kevin Garnett, twice pushed a referee during an altercation. Two Celtic players left the bench area during the same altercation and David Stern, dying for a Celtic-Lakers finals which would be great for TV ratings, refused to take the same action against the Celtics that he took against the Suns in the season prior. Welcome to professional wrestling Commissioner Stern. Nonetheless, the suspension of Diaw and Stoudemire created just enough of an advantage for the Spurs to prevail in six games.
The two abovementioned incidents loom very large in recent Suns playoff history. However, the final turning occurred when General Manager of the Year, Bryan Colangelo, was allowed to get away to the Toronto Raptors because Suns managing partner and owner, Robert Sarver, did not want to pay Colangelo a general manager’s salary that was commensurate with other general managers in the NBA. Subsequently, Mike D’Antoni was made the GM by Sarver. Mike D’Antoni was not a general manager and both realized that as D’Antoni was relieved of his GM duties after one year when Sarver promptly hired friend and former U of A star, Steve Kerr and the GM position promptly went from bad to worse. Kerr has absolutely no credentials to be an NBA general manager. My sources have told me that Kerr relies on former Colangelo underling holdovers to coach him through the free agent negotiations and dealing with the omnipresent salary cap (something the Bryan Colangelo was an expert at). Under Kerr and Sarver, Suns management has taken a dramatic step backwards from what it was under previous owner, Jerry Colangelo, and General Manager, Bryan Colangelo. The Colangelo’s saw that D’Antoni was given the players to make his system work. Yet, since Steve Kerr took over, he has done nothing to assist D’Antoni except to try and coach Mike’s team with his inane suggestions. If Kerr were the GM of the Artist league, he would no doubt tell Picasso how to paint.
The role of a GM is to secure players needed to help the head coach be successful within the style of the head coach His job is not to micromanage the team by trying to coach the team. IF Kerr wants to do that, then he needs to have the guts to fire D’Antoni and name himself as coach. Kerr has told D’Antoni to run more half court sets for Amare, play his bench more and spend at least 30 minutes a day on defense. As a basketball coach, I can tell you that I somewhat agree with these mandates. However, upon closer examination, these three deficiencies can be laid at the feet of Steve Kerr and Robert Sarver for the following reasons.
Here is what we are left with in the presence of D’Antoni’s imminent departure. First, the window for a championship is closed. The Suns are old and have lost a step. Also, the Suns have some players built to run (eg Nash, Bell, Stoudemire, Diaw) while oldsters, Grant Hill and Shaq need to be in a half court system in order to play another year in the league. The team has sever salary cap issues. Kerr is lost as a GM and I do not see a rabbit being pulled out of his hat in order to save the franchise. Word in the Suns organization has Diow and Bell and two number one picks going to Houston for Tracy McGrady. McGrady has never been out of the first round of the playoffs. Yet, isn’t that why Suns management is so anxious to run D’Antoni out of town?
ASU basketball and Herb Sendeck is looking pretty good about now, so is a third party this November.