Mike D'Antoni: Carmelo Anthony a 'better fit' with Rockets than during turbulent Knicks tenure

In 2012, Carmelo Anthony gave the New York Knicks an ultimatum.

Either head coach Mike D’Antoni was gone, or he was.

D’Antoni took the decision away from management and left his NBA head coaching job in the middle of the season. He walked away from guaranteed money and a gig in New York because of Anthony.

“I just went in and quit,” D’Antoni told ESPN in 2017.

Mike D’Antoni reunited with man who drove him from New York

On Monday, Carmelo Anthony officially signed with the Houston Rockets and is now reunited with the man whom he helped chase out of New York six years ago because of a power struggle and clash in styles that saw D’Antoni frequently running his offense through Jeremy Lin.

D’Antoni thinks things can be different with Anthony

D’Antoni, now the head coach of the Rockets, told USA Today on Monday that this time things were different in his first public comments on Anthony since the signing.

“I think this is totally different. We’ve got a team that is a whole bunch of veterans that really, we’ve got one thing in mind, and that’s to win a championship, and we have the possibility. We never had a blow-up before, so it’s not he wanted to play a certain way and I kind of wanted to coach another way.

Back then, there wasn’t even analytics. I was going by my gut, and he was going by (his) gut, and it’s just, you know, styles clash. And I think now, things have changed and everybody is playing the same way.

I think it’s a lot better fit and I think we have a really good chance to be really good.”

 

That sounds very much like the optimistic thing you have to say when a guy joins your team. It’s not like D’Antoni was going to come out and trash Anthony on Day 1.

At the same time, it seems unlikely the Rockets would have signed Anthony without a plan or D’Antoni’s blessing. Maybe both sides have learned and matured, and things will work out better this time.

Effectively molding Carmelo Anthony into a role player would rank as one of Mike D’Antoni’s greatest coaching achievements. (AP)

D’Antoni’s offense not what it was in Knicks days with Anthony

Despite D’Antoni’s history and reputation for free flowing ball-movement basketball, his offense in Houston has evolved into a more plodding style that ranked first in isolation frequency by a long shot last season. And it worked.

At one point, the Rockets, who won 65 games, were statistically the most efficient offense in NBA history. Just ask general manager Daryl Morey. They fell back a bit before the end of the season, finishing 11th on the all-time efficiency list. Still not too shabby.

Think Chris Paul dribbling in half court or James Harden dominating the basketball before stepping back for a three-pointer or finding an open teammate near the basket.

And who does the average NBA fan think of first when iso-ball comes up? Anthony, of course. Long derided as a black hole of basketball, maybe his style will find a place in D’Antoni’s evolved offense.

Can Carmelo adapt to new role?

The question becomes when is Anthony going to find the ball in his hands? And when he does, can he still find the basket with any amount of efficiency?

There won’t be much time for Anthony iso-ball when Harden is on the court. And the reigning league MVP is going to be on the court a lot. So is Anthony prepared to come off the bench?

One doesn’t have to go far back to find Anthony scoffing at the idea.


Anthony still an effective 3-point shooter

Anthony was often a disaster last season playing with other ball dominant players Russell Westbrook and Paul George. He shot a woeful, career-worst 40.4 percent from the floor and often found himself on the bench in crunch time.

But he wasn’t terrible from distance, hitting 35.7 percent of his 3-pointers, which is better than his career rate of 34.7 percent.

So if Anthony does find it in himself to check his ego, he may actually find a place in D’Antoni’s offense. A player who can hit from distance has a place in Houston.

Will USA Basketball model work?

D’Antoni pointed to USA Basketball, the only place where Anthony has found true team success since Syracuse, as a model for Anthony.

From the USA Today interview:

“The style that we want to play, and we go through that process, it kind of sorts itself out. It’s like USA Basketball. If you’re committed to doing it, and committed to, ‘OK, this is how we’re playing, and then when it’s your turn it’s your turn, but if it isn’t ,then we’re still within these guidelines.

If D’Antoni can make that theory a reality and integrate Anthony as a truly valuable role player in Houston, it may end up being his best coaching performance yet.

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