SALT LAKE CITY - Perhaps if Steve Nash were really that concerned about seeing his former coach, Mike D'Antoni, succeed in New York, he wouldn't have signed that extension to stay with the Suns last summer.
But although D'Antoni said he and Nash no longer have the close relationship they once did - "There is no relationship," he joked. "That would be tampering" - there still is some loyalty there.
And after Nash and the Suns ran D'Antoni's vacationing Knicks out of US Airways Center with a 36-point win Friday, Nash went on the defensive about the condition of his friend and former coach, who has taken a beating in his first two seasons with the rebuilding Knicks.
"It kind of seems like the Knicks have been a project for 10 years now," Nash said. "It's been, what, six or seven years now? You kind of inherit that cycle, which is just never-ending. It's got to be difficult for him."
D'Antoni's coaching style often was praised through four seasons in Phoenix, when he averaged 58 wins per season and went to the Western Conference finals twice. When he left, the negatives were highlighted, starting with an apparent lack of interest in coaching defense and having a poor relationship with players.
In New York, it only got worse. In his second season, with a roster built on expiring contracts, D'Antoni's ebullient personality has been subdued by the losing, the criticism, the complaints from veterans on the team and the fact that July just isn't coming fast enough. And there is concern that his once-sparkling image as a popular coach whom many star players adore for the fun and freedom of his offense might be tainted by his first two seasons with the Knicks.
"I think that would be myopic to take that view," Nash said. "You've got to have players and you've got to have a culture to succeed in this league. They've just been changing players so much in that franchise that it's difficult to get any growth and foundation to succeed."
D'Antoni accepted the Knicks' job certainly for the big payday, but also for the potential that came with Donnie Walsh's 2010 Plan, which involved clearing as much salary-cap space as possible to make a run at one and possibly two free agents in a year when some of the league's best players will be available.
The catch was he had to go through the first two seasons with a roster that wasn't built to win - a roster that didn't even have the kind of players who fit his style of play.
"The plan was always to wait until 2010, so I'm not sure people have decided to change that and start judging him on 2008 and 2009," Nash said of D'Antoni. "I think that's a mistake because that was never kind of the deal from anyone's perspective."
Notes & quotes: D'Antoni said Wilson Chandler will be re-evaluated this weekend to see how his strained left groin is progressing. With 10 games left in the season, it makes little sense to rush Chandler back, and D'Antoni said the team won't hesitate to shut him down for the rest of the season if he's not completely healthy. "We're there, but we don't want to say that," D'Antoni said. "If he gets well, he gets well. But we're going to err on the side of caution because we want him to have a great summer."
The Dolan family owns a controlling interest in the Knicks and is owner of MSG and Cablevision. Cablevision owns Newsday.