He is headed into the last year of his contract with a great deal of pressure on him to win next season. And he told Newsday that he has no intention of leaving the Knicks.
"Even if Donnie was here, it would be exactly the same scenario,'' D'Antoni told Newsday Saturday. "The team needs to produce and I need to produce and we have to go forward.''
The news about Walsh caught D'Antoni by surprise. "Like everybody,'' he said, "I was just waiting for it to be finalized.
"You hate that he's not here and I'll miss him, but at the same time, we're on the brink of something good, and it's up to me to make it happen.''
Hiring D'Antoni was the first major move that Walsh made after he took over the franchise in April 2008. At the time, Walsh said he chose D'Antoni mainly because of his experience, connection with the game's biggest stars through USA Basketball and dynamic offensive system.
The plan was to lure a few of these stars to New York via free agency in 2010, but the catch was that D'Antoni would have to handle major salary cap-clearing roster shake-ups along the way.
"He set out the plan three years ago,'' D'Antoni said, "and he executed it exactly how he told me he would.''
Walsh said Friday that he is "glad'' he chose D'Antoni and added that "it's a thankless job . . . He and I were always working toward trying to get it to a team that can contend for a championship and ultimately win a championship.''
According to a source, one issue Walsh had with D'Antoni was addressed at the end of the season. It involved a need for more of a defensive mind-set, which was something veteran point guard Chauncey Billups stressed with Walsh in his exit interview, the source said.
According to several sources, D'Antoni is expected to follow through on something that has been widely discussed: the hiring of an assistant coach to oversee the defense. Lawrence Frank, who spent some time around the Knicks' organization before he joined the Celtics this past season, would be considered a strong candidate. However, he is in line for one of two head-coaching vacancies and could have the inside track on the Toronto job.
D'Antoni will closely monitor the process to hire Walsh's successor, but don't expect him to apply for the job. With the Phoenix Suns, he added the title of executive VP of basketball operations to his coaching responsibilities for the 2006-07 season, and said he found it overwhelming.
The dual role does, however, ensure some job security. At the end of that season, the Suns brought in Steve Kerr to be the general manager -- and a year later, D'Antoni was gone.
There was suggestion in the media that D'Antoni might consider walking away from his final season with the Knicks to fill the vacancy in Toronto, joining his friend, former Suns general manager Bryan Colangelo, with the Raptors.
It seemed reasonable to speculate that he might consider the move. He was under heavy fire from the media and the fans for most of the past season and admitted he wasn't initially supportive of the Carmelo Anthony trade because of how dramatically it shook up the roster.
But D'Antoni said he has no plans to leave the Knicks. "I'm definitely committed to staying here,'' he said. "That didn't even enter into my thoughts. We set out to do a job and we made the playoffs and now we're trying to make the next step. I'm looking forward to that challenge.''
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