Stressful time to coach the Knicks

Mike D'AntoniNathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

When the problem is the whole team, the coach usually pays the price.

My eyes nearly popped out of my head over the morning paper. The Knicks have been struggling, the clock has been ticking, and it's clearer than ever there will be no quick fix.

The Knicks are bad. The other night I heard a theory (from Bernard King of all people, who was addressing season ticket holders) that the Knicks were "built for the post-season" and therefore were due to shine then -- as if winning basketball games now was not a priority. As if a dreadful lack of defense will matter less in a seven-game series against a quality opponent with homecourt advantage.

In the paper, The New York Times' Jonathan Abrams ticked down a list of team problems. He had reached team president Donnie Walsh on the phone.

There's a game front office people and owners have to play when the team is struggling: They need to reiterate again and again how much confidence they have in the most easily replaced person in the organization -- the coach. Otherwise people will think that guy's on the hot seat.

And make no mistake, coaching agents -- an amazingly aggressive bunch, with so few of those jobs -- have been eying that lucrative Knick post since the day D'Antoni arrived, and more now than ever.

Here's what Walsh said: "It seems to me we’re having a difficult time for the whole team to get on the same page. I didn’t think it would take this long, but it is."

The whole team is not working? I don't know what the intended message was there, but suffice it to say Knicks fans want change, and I worry for Mike D'Antoni.

This time around, there's a particular problem for the incumbent, which is that D'Antoni has a reputation -- a harsh one, to be sure -- as perhaps the NBA coach who least cares about defense.

Since their big midseason trade, the Knicks have been essentially the NBA's worst defensive team. In the media at large you'll find 100 different versions of "what's wrong with the Knicks," but nothing else matters half as much as the team's complete inability to stop the other team from scoring.

The cause of that bad defense is tough to come up with. Maybe it is D'Antoni's fault. Maybe it's part and parcel of a roster devoid of stoppers or big men. Maybe it's all that and more.

The situation now is that the key players -- Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire -- are under contract for a long time. The defense simply must improve dramatically, and with those two stars in place, and the shooter-loving D'Antoni doling out the minutes, there is unlikely to be a major roster fix to the team's one enormous problem.

Knick fans are grumbling again, and eyes are turning to the coach. If Knick owner James Dolan has the urge to fire D'Antoni, it would not come with a big public relations price at this point.