You might think New York Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni’s job would be about to get easier. Star players Amar’e Stoudemire, who has been out following the death of his brother, and Carmelo Anthony, who has been recovering from a groin injury, are expected to return, with Stoudemire starting in Tuesday’s matchup against the Toronto Raptors and Anthony expected later this week. Add their skills to the sudden emergence of Jeremy Lin — the undrafted, out-of-nowhere point guard who has shocked the basketball world by scoring more than 20 points and seven assists in each of the last five games — and D’Antoni will have an even deeper roster of talent from which to choose.
But the return of Stoudemire and Anthony could very well make things harder for D’Antoni. These are both all stars accustomed to being looked to for making plays, and Anthony, in particular, is used to dominating the ball. D’Antoni will have to find a way to balance the performance he can get out of his newfound phenom while still letting his team’s stars get their shots.
Most leaders would say that’s a problem they’d love to have. And D’Antoni, for one, doesn’t seem worried about it: He’s said Anthony’s return will enhance rather than disrupt the Knicks’ offense. “He's not going to mess it up. I think that's ludicrous,” D'Antoni has said. Stoudemire and Anthony claim they won’t have any issues settling back in with Lin’s newfound stardom, either. Stoudemire has compared Lin to star point guard Steve Nash, saying Lin’s style of play fits well with his own.
Anthony, meanwhile, has a one-on-one style that will need to adjust to the team’s current offense. It has to have stung to read things like the following criticism from the New York Times’ Howard Beck: “Without a skilled playmaker, and with Anthony dominating the ball, D’Antoni’s fluid, frenetic offense turned to sludge. … [Lin] has done what Anthony could not.” Still, Anthony calls the doubts about him fitting back in “funny,” insisting “this is like a dream come true to me. It takes some pressure off of me.”
But even if the on-the-field play manages to work, D’Antoni could face some off-the-field troubles. As the Post’s Matt Brooks wrote Monday, “few expect two superstars — with similarly supersized egos — to simply fall in line behind Lin and morph from the main attraction into a supporting cast.” Say the returning veterans adjust their games and share the ball with their sudden superstar colleague. The media crush and distributed points on the board could still leave either one privately uneasy about sharing the limelight.
One thing working in D’Antoni’s favor is that it turns out Lin not only excels in scoring, but in assisting, or finding players in a position to score and passing to them at just the right moment. He seems to be a true team player and appropriately humble — he’s shot down the Nash comparisons, for instance. And he is new enough to the glare of the spotlight that he shouldn’t have as much trouble sharing it as others would.
Still, D’Antoni will have his work cut out for him finding a way to mesh the needs of each of his three stars with a winning offense. He will have to find ways to both tap into the incredible excitement surrounding the Knicks and keep it from getting so out of control that it affects the egos of his other players or Lin’s psychological state. Having too much talent may be a good problem to have — as long as D’Antoni can find a way to make sure everyone works and plays well together.
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