If I had to make a short list of athletes I would want to meet, Charles Barkley would be one of them. He is candid, opinionated, and a lot of laughs (and oh by the way one of the greatest NBA players of all time). For all of the things he says on camera I can’t imagine what he might say off of it! When you talk as much as he does you’re bound to say something that is going to make me want to open up a verbal can of whoop ass on you. So no offense Sir Charles but what were you thinking when you said that New York Knick’s coach Mike D’Antoni’s system can’t win an NBA title?
That is shockingly dumb Chuck and there are many reasons why you are off base.
Since the 1979-1980 season, only eight different franchises have won NBA championships. Why are franchises like the Celtics and Lakers always there? Because these franchises are driven to win and will spend and exhaust every resource to do so… However, unlike those winning franchises, the Phoenix Suns (during the D’Antoni era) operated like a team that wouldn’t qualify to make the playoffs and got rid of key role players like Kurt Thomas, and top draft picks to save money rather than keep their own and spend money to get that extra piece. Magic Johnson, Kareem and Worthy may be the names that are remembered but they were always adding pieces like former scoring champion Bob McAdoo or defense and rebounding stud Maurice Lucus. The Celtics added Bill Walton. The Bulls, Dennis Rodman and Tony Kukoc. With these winners the question was always who are they going to add next, with Phoenix it was who or what are they going to lose or give away next. You can’t fault this franchise mentality on D’Antoni’s system Chuck.
More examples: One of the eight teams to win a championship since 1979 was the 82-83 Philadelphia 76ers coached by Billy Cunningham. Prior to that year, the 76ers were similar to the Suns in that they were a talented team lead by hall of famer Julius Erving that couldn’t get over the hump. What happened in 82-83? Did Cunningham change his style or become a better coach? No, they added a dominant center named Moses Malone. (For you youngins reading this blog, it would be the equivalent of adding Shaq to your team in his prime) And as it was prophesied before the 82-83 season, Moses did lead his people to the promised land. Do you think Moses Malone may have made a difference for Phoenix Charles?
Larry Brown is a coach that for many is in the conversation for best coach of all time. How many championships has he won? One. He won in 2004 with the Detroit Pistons who oh by the way added all-star Rasheed Wallace to a team that had won fifty plus games (in two seasons under coach Rick Carlisle). Did they give up Richard Hamilton, Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace or Tayshaun Prince to get him? No.
The Nets, who represented the east the two previous seasons were banged up, the Pacers, let go of their all-star center Brad Miller and were playing hurt and all those factors help pave the way for Larry Brown and the Pistons. Do you think Phoenix could have benefited from adding Wallace while not letting go of any key players? Hhm, Wallace likes shooting threes and plays good defense on Tim Duncan.
And lets not leave out the Suns chief rival during D’Antoni’s tenure, the Spurs and see what pieces they added around their core: players like Robert Horry, Michael Finley, Glen Robinson, Brent Barry, and the aforementioned Kurt Thomas.
Am I done schooling you Chuck? In the words of Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman, “I’m just getting warmed up”.
Let me admit that yes, as a kid I was a Knick fan. But I stopped being a fan when Pat Riley became the coach because I hated the style of play he brought to the team. Basketbrall. Over the line physical play that I thought was cheap, dirty, slowed down and made the game boring. And Pat Riley never beat Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls with that strategy. (He did eek out a win over the Bulls in seven games when MJ briefly retired but lost in the NBA finals to Houston) Set aside his Laker years and the Dwayne Wade/ Shaq Heat team as they played different styles. Riley didn’t beat the Jordan Bulls when he coached the Knicks and not when he coached basketbrall with the Miami Heat (Alonzo Mourning/ Tim Hardaway era). So I guess you can say that style of basketball was incapable of winning a championship? But you can’t because it did win two championships with the Detroit Pistons in 1989 & 1990. Riley tried to copy the formula that the Pistons used to beat the Bulls since he assumed he didn’t have the talent to beat them strait up with MJ. Problem was Chuck Dailey’s Pistons had more talent and the Bulls were more experienced by the time Riles coached the Knicks. The Bulls were the better team (despite Patrick Ewing claiming otherwise after every series loss). However, the right system with the right players at the right time won back-to-back championships.
Before I get back to D’Antoni. Lets stay with Pat Riley who did coach the Los Angeles Lakers to four NBA Championships in the 80’s with a completely different brand of basketball. All together now, what were the Lakers known for in the 80’s? Showtime! Up tempo, fast break basketball! Sound familiar? On this team, Riley complained ad nausea about the physical play of the Boston Celtics. So what did the Lakers of the 80’s and the Phoenix Suns of the 2000’s have over the Knicks? Currently, more talent. Let me say it for you slowly Charles, coaching PLUS TALENT = CHAMPIONSHIP. (I’d say you can’t have one without the other but then somebody would bring up Barry Switzer who “coached” the Dallas Cowboys to a Superbowl but that’s another story)
But Phoenix didn’t win a championship under Mike D’Antoni so Barkley must be right, right? WRONG! Lets take a look at some history… San Antonio beats the Suns in a 2007 playoff game in part because Tim Duncan makes his only three point shot of the season at the buzzer to send the game into double overtime. That is not skill or strategy at work or at fault. In 2008, part of the Spurs strategy to beat the Suns was the Hack a Shaq of a past his prime Shaquille O’Neal. If this sport were baseball that strategy would be called bush league but since it is basketball and employed by the popular coach Greg Popovich, it was genius. However, note Sir Charles this was not a flaw of the D’Antoni system. In 2007, Steve Nash suffers a late game injury that helps the Spurs take game one. In the same series, Robert Horry delivers a cheap shot to Nash at the end of a game that the Suns had clinched, Amare Stoudmire and Boris Diaw were suspended for coming off the bench. This tough series was definitely winnable and not lost due to style of play. If Nash’s nose isn’t gushing with blood in game one and Horry doesn’t incite that incident who knows what happens in that six game series?
In his four full seasons as head coach,(2004 – 2008) the four teams that won the NBA championships were the Spurs twice, the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics. Which of those teams did the Suns have more talent then?
I want to look at this another way. Had Mike D’Antoni coached the Michael Jordan led Bulls are you suggesting Charles that they would not have won one NBA championship??? Jordan, Pippen, Rodman would have forgotten how to play defense under coach Mike D.? The 80’s Lakers who won their first of five rings with Paul Westhead (oh btw Chuckles, another up tempo coach), are you implying they would never have tasted champagne with D’Antoni as coach? Nonsense Chuck nonsense!
In all four of his full seasons the Suns won over 50 games, topping 60 games twice. He inherited a team that lost over 50 games and became one of only three coaches to lead a fifty plus loss to a fifty plus win turnaround.
D’Antoni is building something special with the Knicks Chuck. He has a great President in Donnie Walsh (assuming James Dolan doesn’t go Donald Sterling and grasp defeat out of the jaws of victory and let Walsh go) and a franchise that will spend to win. Don’t be a hater, give him time and see. And when he does win a championship, don’t say it’s because he got Carmelo, or whoever else they add, just remember names like Jordan, Pippen, Rodman, Magic, Jabbar, Worthy, Bird, McHale, Parrish, Thomas, Dumars, Laimbeer, Duncan, Robinson, Ginobili, Parker, Shaq, Kobe… Pierce, Garnett, Allen, Rondo, are you getting my point Chuck?