HoopsHabit – How The Denver Nuggets’ Offseason Is Like Game Of Thrones

The Denver Nuggets recently added Nate Robinson into the fold to cap off a tumultuous offseason. Here’s my special Game Of Thrones-themed HoopsHabit article on what Robinson will bring to Denver and how the Nuggets’ offseason is a lot like the infamous Red Wedding.

HoopsHabit – Grading The Denver Nuggets’ Offseason

The Denver Nuggets have cleaned house this offseason, losing coaches, front office personnel and key starters and role players. Here’s my HoopsHabit article grading some of their offseason moves

HoopsHabit – Top 5 Candidates To Replace George Karl As Head Coach Of The Denver Nuggets

No one but the smartest of Nuggets fans was expecting George Karl’s departure, but now that he’s gone, who will become the next head coach in Denver? Here my HoopsHabit article are the top five candidates

HoopsHabit – “How The Golden State Warriors Have Won Without David Lee”

Pulling a typical George Karl In The Playoffs move, the Denver Nuggets fell to the No. 6 Golden State Warriors behind Stephen Curry’s monster third quarter performances. Here’s my HoopsHabit article on how the Warriors were able to win without David Lee

What’s Up With The Denver Nuggets?

In this second segment of “What’s Up With…?” we’re taking a look at a team that was supposed to contend with Oklahoma City and Los Angeles in the Western Conference: the Denver Nuggets. At 11-11, the Nuggets are currently clinging to the eighth spot in the West and they aren’t struggling nearly as much as their fellow, supposed contender in the Los Angeles Lakers. However, this season has been pretty disappointing for Denver fans thus far and the question has to be asked this year just like I asked early on last season:

What’s up with the Denver Nuggets?

In taking a look at why Denver is struggling so much to start this season, there are three main problems that I see. There are minor problems, such as Danilo Gallinari’s largely inconsistent shooting and Kenneth Faried’s production falling off the map recently. But the first major problem has been Ty Lawson. Lawson has started to turn his season around with a couple of dominant performances, but there’s no denying he started off in a bit of a slump this year. After averaging 16.4 points, 6.6 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.3 steals last year, this was supposed to be Lawson’s breakout season. Instead, Denver’s point guard has seen dips in his points and rebounds, averaging 14.7 points, 7 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 2 steals. Not scrub numbers by any means, but not a breakout year either (and keep in mind those averages were slightly raised by more impressive performances in the past week). What happened to the dynamic and lightening-quick point guard that decimated the Lakers in the postseason last year and almost send Kobe and company home early? He’s looked timid at times and almost reluctant to take the same jumpshots he was consistently draining last season. Lawson looks like he’s breaking out of his slump, but if he regresses at all, or even takes a night off, Denver will continue to struggle.

Lawson's showed signs of life recently, but he's got a ways to go to help turn things around in Denver.

Lawson’s showed signs of life recently, but he’s got a ways to go to help turn things around.

The second major problem is the trade the Nuggets made over the offseason, a trade that a lot of Denver fans were excited about. In exchanging Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington in the very unbalanced Dwight Howard deal that sent Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia, Denver was supposed to get back a defensive presence and a decent amount of offense in Andre Iguodala. But with Iggy in a Denver jersey, the Nuggets are 26th in the league in points allowed, giving up 100.7 points per game. To his credit, Iguodala has adjusted his game to fulfill whatever Denver needs from him on the offensive end (namely, scoring), but the balanced game we saw from him in Denver is gone while Afflalo’s having his best season so far down in Orlando. Many thought Iguodala would be the piece to elevate Denver to title contenders in the West, but instead, it’s looked like Iggy has disrupted the team’s chemistry with inconsistent offense.

Was trading for Iggy the right move for Denver? I'm not convinced just yet.

Was trading for Iggy the right move for Denver? I’m not convinced just yet.

The final problem is one that I’m surprised to see myself write, but it seems that George Karl doesn’t have a firm grip on his team’s success anymore. When Denver fans, some of the most loyal basketball fans I’ve seen, are complaining about Karl, you know something’s not right. Just a few years ago, this man inspired them when he beat cancer. This is the man who’s turned the Nuggets into a consistent threat in the West. But unfortunately, those days look like a thing of the past. Again, we could be overreacting here; the Nuggets are at .500 and still have 75 percent of the seaon left to fine-tune. But it’s in the subtle things that you notice how poorly Karl has coached this season. It’s in his refusal to start JaVale McGee, a guy who’s been incredibly efficient in limited minutes and could be an All-Star if Karl took the time to develop him over Kosta Koufos. It’s in a couple of bad losses (Phoenix, Orlando, Los Angeles) and a really underwhelming 0-3 start to the season. It’s in the team’s inconsistency that borderlines bipolarity. And it’s in that angry expression that’s constantly on Karl’s face when his team is struggling, a look that he wears while sitting on the bench and saying nothing. Karl needs to take a more hands-on approach with this group and that’s evident to anyone watching the lifeless disdain on his face whenever the opposing team goes on a run. I believe Karl is a tremendous coach and that he’ll turn things around, but he needs to take a different approach to get wins and appease Denver fans.

How many times have we seen Karl make this face on the bench? Yell at 'em, George!

How many times have we seen Karl make this face on the bench? Yell at ’em, George!

Like the Lakers, the Nuggets still have time to turn things around. To their credit, they have looked a lot better in recent games, but they’re still 3-5 in their last eight games. In their defense though, Denver’s had one of the tougher schedules in the NBA (UPDATED: one of my friends, an avid Nuggets fan, brought it to my attention that Denver has only played six home games this year. It’s hard to win games when 16 of your first 22 are on the road). But it’s hard to tell how good the Nuggets can be because twice this season they’ve put together a nice string of games with four wins in a row, but both times they’ve gone on to drop their next three in a row. Because of how close the race in the West always is, the Nuggets have a very good shot at keeping their playoff spot and an even better shot at moving up the chain if they start meshing. But like the Lakers, the time for saying, “We’ve still got time to fix things,” has just about wrapped up. Time will tell if Lawson’s recent resurgence is for real, but the Denver Nuggets haven’t looked like a contender in the West just yet.

Lakers Win Game 7, Advance

Some credit goes to George Karl and the resilient Denver Nuggets for pushing their series with the Los Angeles Lakers to a seventh game after trailing 3-1, but more credit goes to Kobe Bryant and the rest of his supporting cast after outlasting the Nuggets in Game 7 with a 96-87 victory. Pau Gasol had a breakout performance with 23 points, 17 rebounds, six assists and four blocks, Andrew Bynum responded as well with 16 points, 18 rebounds and six blocks, and even Steve Blake had a monster game with 19 points after knocking down five 3-pointers, but it was Kobe Bryant that moved the Lakers into the second round.

How, you ask? He completely deferred to his teammates. After a two-day stretch of speculation and talk about how pathetic Kobe’s supporting cast had become, Bryant allowed his teammates to prove everyone wrong by passing the ball. So even though his 17-point, 8-assist performance doesn’t look impressive on paper, it was his continued commitment to giving up the ball that allowed his teammates to excel. Yes, Kobe-haters, I understand your reluctance to praise a guy for simply passing the ball to talented teammates. But with the way this series was going, it had turned into Denver vs. Kobe, and Kobe wasn’t going to win that battle. So he deserves credit for getting in his teammates’ ear and then allowing them to display their heart and commitment to winning a championship. That being said, Ron Artest’s return (I’m still not referring to him as “Metta World Peace) made a big difference on both ends of the floor. Without Artest, I’m not convinced the Lakers win Game 7. Artest made the invaluable contribution of shutting Danilo Gallinari down, who finished with only three points on 1-of-9 shooting. He also guarded Andre Miller, who had a similarly frustrating offensive night with three points on 1-of-10 shooting. But Artest’s impact didn’t stop there, as he knocked down four 3-pointers and ended up with 15 points in his first game back.

Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Steve Blake and Ron Artest all got the chance to shine thanks to Kobe Bryant being a team player in Game 7.

For Denver, it was yet another disappointing first round loss. Al Harrington had a breakout game with 24 points off the bench, while Ty Lawson also put up 24 in addition to six assists and five rebounds. Arron Afflalo pitched in 15 points, but other than that, Denver’s offense struggled despite balanced distribution. Gallinari and Miller were taken out of the game by Artest. Kenneth Faried had just six points to go with his 10 rebounds. McGee finished with six points as well, but grabbed 14 boards. The Lakers outplayed the Nuggets in every way necessary to get the series win in Game 7: they cut down on turnovers, they scored inside the paint and they had 14 blocks and 10 steals compared to Denver’s nine rejections and five steals. But the biggest factor was 3-point shooting. Los Angeles hit 11 3-pointers and shot just under 46 percent from downtown while Denver made seven and hit less than 27 percent of their 3-point attempts. Gasol and Bynum’s resurgent performances definitely hurt, but Blake and Artest knocking down shots from the outside gave them little chance to pull off the upset. However, the Nuggets have a very bright future with, especially if they have room to resign JaVale McGee, who had a breakout series despite falling short in Game 7. They have young and talented players like Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried and experience veterans that give them depth and defense. Look for Denver to be a tough playoff team next year if they can bring everybody back.

Looking ahead, Denver probably matched up better with the Thunder because of their depth and clever defensive strategies. The Lakers’ struggles against the Nuggets provided a blueprint for how to beat LA and you can be sure OKC made note of it. If Gasol and Bynum disappear in the second round like they did in the first, the Thunder’s overall talent will completely overwhelm the Lakers, especially considering that OKC has home-court advantage and a real reason to come out strong against LA after Artest gave James Harden a concussion just a few weeks ago. Unless Kobe, Bynum and Gasol all have a stellar series, the Thunder could run away with this one.

Ty Lawson and the young Denver Nuggets played a valiant series and have a promising future despite the disappointing loss.

Denver Survives Late Rally, Forces Game 6

Kobe Bryant knocked down five 3-pointers in the second half and dropped 43 points, but it still wasn’t enough to overcome the balanced attack of the Denver Nuggets. A collective effort from a number of unsung heroes helped the Nuggets stave off a late rally from Kobe and the Lakers to give them a 102-99 victory on the road and force a Game 6 in Denver on Thursday. With the series now shifting back to Denver and the Lakers only up 3-2, the Nuggets are on the verge of making this series very interesting.

Last night’s win was probably Denver’s best in the series so far, despite the fact that Kobe nearly took it over at the end. The Nuggets completely controlled the game until Kobe started to get hot and knocked down four 3-pointers in the game’s final minutes. But even with the Staples Center going ballistic, Denver’s veterans and developing talents alike kept their composure and did what they needed to to send the series back to their home court. Andre Miller was absolutely phenomenal for Denver, leading them with 24 points and eight assists, including a few clutch baskets and free throws that kept the Nuggets on top down the stretch. JaVale McGee had another breakout performance and completely outplayed Andrew Bynum, finishing with 21 points and 14 rebounds. McGee and Kenneth Faried, who had 10 points and nine rebounds, helped limit Bynum and took care of the boards for a Denver team that was expected to be at a huge disadvantage in the paint. Arron Afflalo finally had a decent offensive outing, finishing with 19 points and five rebounds while Danilo Gallinari, who had an off shooting night, still pitched in 14 points of his own. But perhaps one of the most underrated performances of the night came from Timofey Mozgov. Although Mozgov failed to score a single point and registered only one block, his defense on Andrew Bynum was paramount. Even though none of his efforts showed up on the stat sheet, Mozgov kept Bynum from getting close to the basket and combined with Faried and McGee to completely take him out of the game.

JaVale McGee dominated Bynum on both ends of the floor.

For the Lakers, it was a pretty bad night. Other than Kobe, no one but Bynum and (surprisingly) Matt Barnes reached double digits in scoring. Bynum posted 16 points and 11 rebounds, but he looked completely frustrated and allowed Denver to take him out of his game, which became pretty evident after his purposeless shove on Kenneth Faried that led to a technical foul. But although Bynum is a big area of concern right now after being outplayed by McGee on both ends of the floor, the Lakers have even bigger problems: Ramon Sessions and Pau Gasol. Sessions was supposed to be the missing piece to the championship puzzle for LA, but he’s failed to have a significant impact so far. He hit a big 3-pointer to pull the Lakers that much closer to a comeback victory, but other than that he was pretty absent. The biggest problem in this series has been Pau Gasol though. Gasol used to be Kobe’s second-hand man and a dominant, skilled force in the paint. But now that Bynum is around, Gasol has been moved out of the paint and functions more like a facilitator. Gasol only put up nine points and 10 rebounds and has been putting up similar numbers for this entire series. Credit Denver’s post players for not allowing scoring in the paint but Gasol has got to get himself more involved on offense if the Lakers want to win.

Kobe played lights out and the Nuggets still got the win. So far, a lot of credit has to go to George Karl for developing this squad into a competitive team. They don’t have superstars, but they have veterans, developing talent and plenty of depth. The Nuggets have done what they needed to do to stay competitive in this series: they’ve prevented Bynum and Gasol from having a field day down low, they’ve utilized their advantage at the point guard position, and they’ve overwhelmed the Lakers’ starting five with balanced scoring and overall effort at every position. And even though Kobe went off in Game 5, the Nuggets won because they limited production from everyone else. Andre Miller and JaVale McGee have been huge and have to continue their high level of production to keep Denver alive. Al Harrington has struggled but all it takes is one good shooting night and the Nuggets could make this series very interesting if it goes to Game 7 in LA. And just as a side note, last night was further proof the Kobe will never go down in history as the greatest player in the NBA. Although his barrage of 3-pointers was impressive and he finished with 43 in a pretty stellar performance, his last three shots, which all could have tied the game, sounded something like this: “CLANK. CLANK. CLANK.” I don’t remember Michael Jordan missing that many shots in the playoffs with the game on the line.

Yeah, Kobe’s performance last night was extremely impressive. But when his team needed it most, he came up short three times.

Lakers Take Care of Business

Despite a drastically improved performance from the Nuggets, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers would not be denied at home in Game 2, outlasting some late Denver runs to take a 2-0 lead on the series in a 104-100 victory. George Karl and the Nuggets know they can compete with LA now, but it might be too little, too late, even with the series shifting back to Denver.

So far a few key factors have become clear. Unless any of the following things change, the Nuggets can’t win the series and could possibly exit the postseason without a single victory:

1) Kobe Bryant has been able to exert his will and dominate the Nuggets’ defense, shooting almost 49 percent from the floor in two games. He’s dropped 31 and 38 so far and Arron Afflalo hasn’t been able to bother him or disrupt his shot enough. Stopping Kobe during the postseason is next to impossible; but if the Nuggets can’t play more physical with him and make him miss more shots, he will continue to put up 30+ points a night.

2) Andrew Bynum has been a huge problem for Denver’s defense and offense so far. In Game 2, Kobe dropped 38, which usually would indicate that his teammates scored a lot less. But Bynum actually finished with 27 points. Kobe and Bynum shot more than 50 percent of LA’s shots and combined for more than half of their points. Bynum has challenged shots at the rim and although Lawson had a much improved offensive game, the Nuggets’ offensive struggles are a testament to his (and Pau Gasol’s) interior size and shot-blocking ability.

3) Arron Afflalo has yet to show up and play a good game from start to finish. Aside from being unable to challenge Kobe on the defensive end, Afflalo has failed to live up to the quality shooting guard he had become by the end of the season. Afflalo is only putting up 10.0 points a game after averaging 18.7 in the month of April. If his shooting struggles continue for Games 3 and 4 in Denver, LA will end this series in five games (at least).

Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum are Denver’s main problems, as they have been dominant in the first two games of this series.

These have been the three major factors in the series so far. You could bring up Andre Miller playing well in Game 1 and then not scoring in Game 2 and you could also point out how the Lakers got way more production out of their bench than anyone anticipated in the playoff opener. But the fact is, if Denver had competed in Game 1 like they did in Game 2, they might have been able to grab a win on the road at Staples Center. But after being obliterated in Game 1 and then falling short in Game 2, the message has been sent that Denver just can’t hang with this team. Between Kobe Bryant and the Lakers’ size advantage, the Nuggets just don’t pose as much of a threat as I anticipated. Even when LA’s role players didn’t do much in Game 2, the Lake Show was still too much to handle: Ramon Sessions was scoring (14 points), Pau Gasol came close to a triple double (for the second consecutive game), and, of course, Kobe and Bynum were unstoppable.

Denver might get a win at home to extend the series an extra game or two, but if Los Angeles wins Game 3, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a sweep. I’ve got to think George Karl and his squad are too resilient to let that happen and they might come close to tying the series up at home, but as is the case with any balanced team, everyone has to come ready to play every single game. When the Lakers’ talented starting five are playing the majority of the game, a team with depth and balanced scoring only becomes an advantage if guys can come in and play at a consistently high level. So far, there have been too many inconsistencies and the Lakers have taken advantage of them.

Don’t get me wrong; Denver has a promising future and I’ve been extremely impressed with rookie Kenneth Faried; another year or two of development and this guy could become a star to complement Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari. But the Nugget no-show in Game 1 absolutely killed them and gave them the near-impossible task of rebounding for a win in Game 2. Even though Gallinari and Corey Brewer have played well so far and held up their end of the bargain, Faried is too young, Lawson is too small and the Nuggets are too thinly spread out to have much hope in advancing against this Lakers powerhouse. Unless Denver can find a way to tie the series up at home, LA will move on to the second round.

Denver has no chance unless Arron Afflalo shows up to play.

Way of the Warriors

If you follow the NBA at all, you’ve probably read about how Chris Mullin’s special night of retiring his jersey was ruined by Golden State fans booing Warriors owner Joe Lacob. Even though you feel bad for Mullin, you’ve probably seen the YouTube video a few times and laughed your ass off while watching a flustered Lacob look for support and an irate Rick Barry scold the audience. At first, I was disgusted with these Warriors fans, booing and ruining what should have been a memorable and happy night not just for Chris Mullin but for the franchise and its ever-supportive fans. But then I realized that Golden State fans have every reason to be upset.

I felt bad for both these guys at first, and then I realized Mullin was the only one who deserved better.

Bill Simmons, my favorite basketball writer, lays out the history of the Warriors franchise in a lengthy article detailing how management has brought some of the best fans in the NBA to their knees. A few awful facts stuck out in reading his article about the Warriors over the past 35 years: 1) They’ve missed the playoffs 29 times in 35 years 2) They haven’t had an NBA All-Star since 1997 3) Despite the Warriors’ awful losing records, they’ve had 22 top-14 picks since 1985 and 4) They’ve given away Chris Webber, Jason Richardson, Baron Davis, Antawn Jamison, Gilbert Arenas as well as coaches Rick Adelman, George Karl and Gregg Popovich.

YIKES. If you’re a diehard Warriors fans (and there really is no other kind of Warriors fan), those last four sentences should break your heart. And after all that the franchise has been through, Warrior fans are still some of the best in the NBA. Everyone saw how riled up Golden State’s fanbase can get when they actually have something to cheer about, evidenced by the Warriors’ improbable playoff run as the eight seed in 2007, knocking off the Dallas Mavericks in six games. Baron Davis, Jason Richardson, Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes almost led them past the Utah Jazz in the second round, and even if they were eliminated, the Warriors had reason to stand behind their slogan of “We Believe!” (while also giving us Davis’ wicked dunk over Andrei Kirilenko). But then poor management kicked in, players were shipped off and the Warriors have been reeling ever since (again). Until recently, it was starting to become the era of Monta Ellis, Stephen Curry and David Lee.

The '07 playoffs are the best memories Warriors fans have over the last 10 years.

Even if the team wasn’t going to contend, Ellis gave fans something to cheer about. The Warriors had a young and talented core to build around for the future, even if the present could have been better. Mark Jackson was brought on as head coach and it looked like the franchise might return to its 2007-playoff-run glory. But Jackson hasn’t shaped up to be the coach fans prayed for, Curry has been plagued with ankle injuries and the last straw came in the form of the Monta Ellis trade.

I initially defended this trade for Golden State, noting that the Warriors weren’t going to contend anyway, so there really wasn’t much of a problem gearing up for next year by getting rid of a guard (who isn’t as efficient as he should be) for an injured Andrew Bogut and a declining but still decent Richard Jefferson. But I didn’t stop and think about what Ellis meant to Warriors fans. I didn’t recall Golden State’s terrible history over the past 35 years. I failed to take into account the fact that Warriors fans are some of the most passionate in the NBA, and therefore have no reason to be satisfied with tanking this year in order to improve next season. So for Warriors fans, this trade sent their one glimmer of hope and excitement away for an big man with a history of injuries in addition to an old guy with a cap-space-killing contract.

So unfortunately for Joe Lacob, Chris Mullin, and anyone who’s uncomfortable with awkward situations, I have to applaud the Golden State fanbase for booing their owner during that halftime ceremony. It was high time fans made their discontent be known. I can understand his intentions to look at the big picture and improve for next year, but for an impatient fan, a move like trading Ellis is enraging. Fans should try and have hope for the future and feel some shame in blemishing Mullin’s ceremony. But even though Chris Mullin deserved better on his special night, it’s only fair to equally understand that Golden State Warriors fans have deserved better for 35 years.

This image has got to absolutely KILL Warriors fans.

Blaming Melo

The popular thing for awhile seemed to be blaming Carmelo Anthony for the New York Knicks’ struggles. Whether it was the six-game losing streak, Mike D’Antoni’s resignation or the rumors that he wanted to be traded, the common trend when talking about the New York Knicks became: “Blame Melo!”

But let’s take a closer look at the facts and use our brains a little bit. This trend spread like wildfire, but was it fair to put 100% of the blame for the Knicks’ extensive problems on Melo? Definitely not.

Stop regurgitating what you hear on Sportscenter. It's not Melo's fault

First, let’s take a look at the three ways Melo did screw up New York. 1) Melo’s isolation plays. Melo’s playing style turns downright selfish at times and hurts the team’s chemistry and ability to contribute. You’ve seen it before: Melo dribbling around, jacking up a shot after winding down the shot clock, usually missing, then jogging back on defense. 2) Melo’s defense. “Playing” defense is exactly what I would call it, because it doesn’t look like he’s really even trying. What happened to the guy that went toe-to-toe with Kobe Bryant in the playoffs on the Nuggets? 3) Melo’s injury. This is probably the one that hurt the most. The injury that sidelined Melo gave Jeremy Lin the chance to rise as New York’s go-to man and allowed the team to develop new chemistry. Behind Jeremy Lin, this Knicks team clicked, had fun, and everyone saw the ball thanks to their newfound distributor and scorer. Carmelo’s return screwed up the winning chemistry that the team established with Lin.

Now it’s important to understand why the Knicks’ six game losing streak shouldn’t have fallen entirely on Melo’s shoulders. First of all, calling Melo is a ballhog is only semi-accurate. The guy is a scorer and should be given the ball because otherwise what’s the point of having him? Certainly not for his defensive intensity! A dip in everybody else’s numbers should be expected when a scoring machine like Carmelo Anthony is inserted back into the lineup. Second, keep in mind that any time a star player sits on the sidelines for awhile, the team has to respond to his absence. This means that the group establishes a new rhythm and chemistry, so when the star returns, the team dynamic is different and both sides have to adjust. This happens with ANY star player, so saying that Melo ruined the team chemistry is a little unfair.

It’s also unfair to place all of the blame with Melo when the Knicks had a myriad of other problems going on that few people acknowledged during that six-game skid. One was Jeremy Lin’s poor shooting during that stretch. Although he put up 14.5 shots per game, he shot 39% from the floor. Yes, Melo was leading the team with 18 shots per game and his shooting percentage wasn’t fantastic either, but Amare Stoudemire was only getting 13.7 looks per game. Amare is the Knicks’ second-best offensive threat! Even if Amare’s numbers have drastically dipped from 25.3 ppg last season to 17.4 ppg this seaosn, Lin should not be putting up more shots than him, especially when Lin is shooting so poorly. Amare already plays terrible defense, so if he’s not getting touches you might as well leave him on the bench. Then you realize guys like Landry Fields and JR Smith weren’t getting enough touches. Tyson Chandler was out for a few games and battled that wrist injury. Finally, look at the teams the Knicks played during that stretch. You should notice the level of competition rose dramatically compared to when Linsanity was on the rampage; games against the Celtics, Mavs, Spurs, Bucks, Sixers and Bulls would all be challenging even without all the problems the Knicks have been dealing with.

You're looking at New York's biggest problem, but here's a hint: it's not Melo.

But the biggest problem with the Knicks was their coaching situation. You can talk all you want about how D’Antoni’s resignation came down to Melo’s isolation style vs. D’Antoni’s “team-basketball-centered-around-the-point-guard” strategy. You can blame Melo for basically ousting D’Antoni when management realized it was time to either get rid of the coach or get rid of the player. You can even blame all the ESPN reports for spurring the resignation with their stories about Melo not backing D’Antoni’s system and wanting a trade (which he adamantly denied). But that fact is, D’Antoni was not the right coach for New York and his system tanked there. He didn’t connect with his star player and the team suffered for it as conflicting styles of play manifested themselves. Think back to Melo’s time in Denver. Before Anthony wanted a trade and put the Nuggets in an uncomfortable place for most of the season, did George Karl have these kind of extensive problems with Melo or his team? Not even close. D’Antoni was the wrong guy for the job. And this is coming from a Suns fan who realizes how important he was in revitalizing basketball in Phoenix (before his lack of emphasis on defense led to the team coming up short).

I started writing this post before the Knicks went on a three-game winning spree, but the fact remains the same even if they hadn’t won those games: New York is much better off without D’Antoni. The Knicks have won three straight under Mike Woodson, all by double digits (including a 42-point Portland massacre). The scoring has been extremely balanced under a coach who knows how to manage his players, even if that means letting them take the reins a little bit. Melo has lowered his shots per game by about six during this winning streak, which does show the team is better when he’s not putting up 20 shots every night. But don’t forget all the other problems the Knicks had before Woodson took over. JR Smith has turned things around, averaging just under 17 ppg. Lin is shooting the ball less and stepping into his role as a true point guard. Novak has emerged as a dangerous threat from downtown and Chandler has returned to the lineup.

Despite the fact that Carmelo Anthony has shot the ball poorly this season, Linsanity is over; he has offensive weapons around him. What the Knicks need now is for Lin to be a true points guard by looking to facilitate first and score second. If he does this, if the scoring continues to be balanced, if Melo shoots the ball less, if Amare and JR Smith stay involved and if Novak, Chandler, Shumpert and the rest of the supporting cast continue to fulfill their roles, New York will make the playoffs. Whether or not Woodson’s coaching will help this team realize its full potential remains to be seen; his record as head coach of the Atlanta Hawks wasn’t exactly stellar. But the most important point is that with someone else in charge, New York could develop into the team Knicks fans hoped for, but could only dream about, with D’Antoni in charge.

Without D'Antoni, the future of the New York Knicks looks much brighter