May 6th, 2008 – Dr. Dime
After averaging 57 wins over his past four seasons as the Head Coach of the high octane Phoenix Suns, Mike D’Antoni is now in a position to have his pick of the litter for the teams with vacant head coaching positions. I haven’t seen a Coach demand this kind of attention on the open market since the Lakers rolled out the red carpet for Phil Jackson (the first and second time), or when the Knicks somehow wooed Larry Brown into his New York nightmare. The current leading candidate for the services of D’Antoni: The Chicago Bulls.
The strangest thing about the Bulls making a push to acquire D’Antoni is the fact that Bulls GM John Paxson is a long-time friend of Suns GM Steve Kerr from their running days with the Jordan era Chicago Bulls.
All reports are indicating that the majority of the tension between D’Antoni and the front office in Phoenix stems from his strained relationship with Suns GM Steve Kerr. D’Antoni felt throughout the latter half of the regular season and into the playoffs that Kerr was meddling too much into his handling of the team’s playing style (Kerr wanting a stronger defensive presence), and player relations. Kerr, not so quietly let D’Antoni know he wanted him to be a little more firm with the young stars, Amare Stoudemire and Leandro Barbosa. Given D’Antoni’s preference for an offensive run and gun style of play, and his track record for keeping a very democratic relationship with his players, no wonder he is looking to high tail it out of Phoenix.
After the news broke that Dallas Head Coach Avery Johnson was fired following the Mavericks playoff ousting. The buzz started circulating among NBA analysts that maybe D’Antoni was next. We even reported as such here at The Hoop Doctors. What is starting to now unfold is quite the opposite. With all the latest news of NBA General Manager’s firing their Head Coaches, who would have ever thought that with 2 years and $8.5 million left on his contract, it would be Suns Coach Mike D’Antoni looking to get an early exit out of Phoenix.
Part of me was a bit curious as to why Steve Kerr would grant Mike D’Antoni his request to begin talks with other NBA teams regarding their coaching vacancies. Then I realized D’Antoni in his exit interview with the Suns Owner and General Manager must have made a lasting impression that his heart was no longer with the Phoenix Suns. And once a coach loses that passion and commitment to his team, Kerr probably realized he would be better off elsewhere. But with 8.5 million left on Mike D’Antoni’s contract, and Kerr now clearly hoping for D’Antoni to take another job and be forced into accepting a minimal buy-out from the Suns, what we will witness over the next month or so will be an old fashioned western stand-off. But who will shoot first, D’Antoni or Kerr?