Of the mistakes listed against Mike D'Antoni this season, the reluctance to include his rookies in the rotation early in the season tops the list. We'll agree that D'Antoni was in a tough spot with so many veterans on expiring contracts that, for the sake of locker room harmony, he felt he had to honor the vets and leave it to the kids to prove themselves.
Jordan Hill, the Knicks' 2009 lottery pick who returns to the Garden today with the Rockets seemed to understand the situation when the Houston Chronicle asked him about his lack of consistent playing time in New York.
"Coach D'Antoni, he relies on veterans more than rookies," he told the paper. "He feels like his rookies need to learn more their first year so they could get everything down pat. I understood. I just wanted to wait patiently until my time was coming. My chance was here [in Houston] and I'm making the best of it.
"Fans there [in New York], they know what I can do. I just didn't have the opportunity to show it."
Houston picked up Kevin Martin in the three-team trade, but made sure to get Hill right into the rotation there and in 10 games he's put up a modest, but productive, 5.9 points and 5.1 boards in 15.5 minutes per for Rick Adelman.
Well, one thing we knew about Jordan in his brief time with the Knicks was that he had a knack for filling stat columns.
It would have helped if he showed up in actual shape for Summer League last July in Las Vegas, perhaps then D'Antoni would have been more enamored at the start. It wasn't a good first impression.
But for those who think D'Antoni didn't want Hill or didn't want to play the kid, you should know D'Antoni was one of the main supporters in the draft room when Hill was selected over Brandon Jennings. So, really, what would have been D'Antoni's motivation to not play the rookie?
Here's one: because the team had David Lee, Al Harrington Jared Jeffries etc. ahead of him in the rotation. Check the archives to see how I felt about that. Bottom line, after a 1-9 start, all bets should have been off. But D'Antoni would not give up hope that the veterans could come together enough to be a playoff contender and he prefered that gamble that to just give up the season, go with the growing pains that comes with playing the rookies (this includes Toney Douglas) and deal with the fallout of veterans on expiring contracts complaining about the lack of PT and abundance of losing.
But before we pass judgement on the Feb. 18 trade that sent Hill to the Rockets along with Jeffries in a blockbuster that cleared $9.5M more in salary cap space off the 2010 ledger, let's get to July and see what the franchise does with all that cap space. And consider the fact that the Knicks found a taker for Jeffries' contract.
D'Antoni bristled before the game when asked about his hesitation to play rookies.
"I don't like to play bad rookies," he said. "I like to play good rookies."