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D'Antoni cuts to the chase. Rose just cut.

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Dec 9

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Mike D’Antoni is no different than anyone else. And not just because Stephon Marbury hates him, too.

No, D’Antoni admits he does occasionally have some of those “what if” thoughts, like what if he’d waited until the lottery and it was clear the Bulls had the No. 1 overall draft pick and perhaps the next Steve Nash in Derrick Rose and what if the Bulls wanted him to coach and what if…

“Everyone (has those thoughts). It’s human nature,” D’Antoni said by telephone. “But I’m very happy working where I am. I came in knowing the challenge. I’m not disillusioned. I don’t sit around wishing I’d done something else. Now, if we could have gotten Rose…

(by the way, check out my Rose posting below about wacky injuries in sports after Rose accidently cut himself with a knife Monday.)

“I could see when he was on the (USA Basketball) select team (playing against the senior team),” said D’Antoni, an assistant on the gold medal winning USA team. “You could see he was going to be really, really good, a big time player, rockets for legs, quickness, explosive ability. He could get to the rim, a good kid. This was a guy who can’t miss.”

D’Antoni is at the United Center Tuesday with his New York Knicks, and it’s not like he really misses Phoenix or the chance to go to Chicago. Despite being in the middle of the predictable New York dysfunction: Marbury in full pout and search and destroy (his team) seeking to be released, a major trade taking away his two top scorers in Zach Randolph and Jamal Crawford apparently to get in position to make a run at LeBron James and other free agents in almost two years, one of the players coming in the trade (Cuttino Mobley) perhaps retiring with heart issues and injuries to supposed rotation players like Eddy Curry, Nate Robinson and Jared Jeffries, D’Antoni still has fashioned a more competitive Knicks team than we’ve seen in years, more of a threat on any given night than circumstances would suggest.

“It is difficult because every coach wants things to run smoothly and win and all that,” said D’Antoni. “But the players have been receptive and bought in. It’s a good group of guys with good spirit. The locker room is alive and they want to do the right thing, which is good enough for now.”

It was good enough for a home win over the Detroit Pistons Sunday and to give the Knicks a 9-11 record, identical to the Bulls. They are third in points scored, 29th in points surrendered and worst in opponent field goal percentage. But they beat the Jazz, Pistons and Heat and play with a giddy √©lan that is common in D’Antoni teams as D’Antoni seems to have revived Quentin Richardson and found a talent in Wilson Chandler, both from DePaul.

No one is quite sure what happened in the Bulls’ pursuit of D’Antoni as D’Antoni accepted a job with the Knicks shortly after meeting with the Bulls management team. D’Antoni says he respects and admires Bulls managing partner Jerry Reinsdorf and just felt the New York job was a challenge he wanted to take a shot at, though he says he remains grateful for the Bulls interest.

Though D’Antoni’s offensive seven-seconds-to-shoot system is often mocked by other coaches, D’Antoni is something of a power of positive thinking coach. He doesn’t use a deep rotation and doesn’t practice that hard. But his players are in condition and routinely compete. Though he’s engaged in his most fierce verbal battles in the NBA with Phil Jackson, they are somewhat alike in their ability to appeal to players and produce results. D’Antoni is something of a mind over body guy. He gets guys to believe. That they are better than everyone says and can do more. You see elements of it already with the surprising Knicks.

Though much of it has been overshadowed by the ongoing L’Affair Marbury.

D’Antoni has been roasted in the New York media (who isn’t) about his handling of Marbury, but D’Antoni makes no apologies, and it’s unclear what he could have done differently. Ownership didn’t want to pay Marbury off to go away, Marbury insisted on being around, and D’Antoni wanted to move on knowing Marbury wasn’t in the team’s future.

“It’s like trying to put a square peg in a round hole,” he said. “I hate the situation. I hate it for Steph. Could we have done something different? I don’t know. I didn’t know guys would get hurt, about Cuttino. If I knew that (when D’Antoni opened the season not playing Marbury) maybe we’d change. You try to make the best decision with the information at the time, and we did.

“I hate it for everybody,” D’Antoni said. “The biggest thought was development, trying to build a team. We had Chris (Duhon), Nate, Jamal. To be honest, there weren’t minutes there (for Marbury). We chose to go with three young core players. That was the decision and we went with it.

“To have the kind of year (you want) you need to start strong, have people healthy and get lucky,” notes D’Antoni. “It’s hard to have a Cinderella season when you aren’t lucky. You’ve got to keep it together and make your own luck, but we are getting guys back and I feel we will make the playoffs. The players have bought in and are good, so it’s not hard.

“I knew all along at some point there might be a disruption (because of a trade),” D’Antoni acknowledged. “If Mobley (could play), if Nate didn’t get hurt. I thought it was a good trade (for now as well). So it is taking longer to adjust. But we’ll muddle through.”

Still, D’Antoni likes a lot of what he sees, especially Duhon, the former Bulls guard.

“I didn’t look at last year,” said D’Antoni. “For whatever reason, a lot of people there were down last year, not just him. I looked at two years ago and I liked him a lot. Coach K said he never gets tired and how he is a special person. He’s been even better than I thought.”

D’Antoni knows the critics will be out there, saying his uptempo system only worked because of Nash, but he doesn’t worry.

“I do think it does work in the long run,” D’Antoni says. “I never thought I’d come here and it would be all flowers and balloons everywhere. It would take awhile. I’m a basketball coach and I know that good teams win because of good players. It’s been everything I expected here, a good practice facility, a terrific setting and the chance to develop a young team. The hardest thing is having patience in New York. I know there’s no quick fix. They kept trying that and it kept getting worse. We as an organization have to have patience, accept the criticisms, not panic and do what we do and have faith in the end product and where we’re going and not get caught up in the distractions. We’re definitely cool with that.”

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors.

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