“Ladies and gentlemen, you’re here today because of a simple set of facts. The prosecution intends to prove that over the last three years, Mike D’Antoni has been on a horrifying crime spree against the careers of star NBA athletes under his care and tutelage. Too many players have been felled by Mike D’Antoni in his brazen campaign of self-centered self-promotion and self-preservation. Mr. D’Antoni has wrecked too many careers — and it’s up to us to stop him.”
I hope you’ll allow me to enter that as my opening statement in the ongoing trial of Mike D’Antoni in the court of public opinion. Since Kobe Bryant went down with a ruptured Achilles Tendon late last week, there’s been a debate raging as to whose fault the injury is (if, indeed, the injury is anyone’s fault at all). Well, this was anything but a fluke, and the blame for it rests squarely on D’Antoni’s shoulders.
To be clear, neither I nor anyone else can prove that Kobe Bryant blew out his Achilles Tendon because of Mike D’Antoni and because of the insane minutes load Bryant was under. But people are convicted of crimes even without smoking guns. Strong circumstantial cases are still strong cases, and the circumstances pointing towards D’Antoni are damning indeed.
In order to this to be a true fluke injury, it couldn’t have been predicted in advance. If it was predicted, then it was preventable. So did anyone predict the possibility of a major Kobe Bryant leg injury right before it happened?
Yes. Mike D’Antoni did.
On April 8, days before Bryant’s injury, D’Antoni said of his star guard’s minutes: “That's the risk that we're running with Kobe. His legs, we're playing a little bit with fire and we wouldn't like to.” Mike D’Antoni acknowledged he was taking a risk, and he took it anyway. He has a right to make that decision, but he needs to live with the blame he earned with it as well.
Now if this was a one-time thing and a rare occurrence, D’Antoni could be forgiven. But it was neither of those things. In 2010, D’Antoni played Amare Stoudemire 40 minutes a night for my Knicks for a month and a half. Stoudemire broke down by the end of the season, too, just like Bryant, and has had surgery on both knees since. He’s never recovered.
During the height of Linsanity last year, D’Antoni elected to ride Jeremy Lin “like frickin’ Secretariat.” The result? Another broken down racehorse. Lin’s knees couldn’t handle the strain. Ditto Carmelo Anthony, who after playing about 40 a night for a few weeks at D’Antoni’s orders landed on the trainers’ table for a month as well. Now that’s a clear pattern.
So what do we have? A coach with a history of running players into the ground, who admits he’s playing with fire with one of his stars — who then suffers a catastrophic, potentially career-ending injury. D’Antoni knew what he was doing, and he did it anyway. The prosecution rests.