Frank Isola of the New York Daily News reports that the New York Knicks will ask coach Mike D'Antoni to consider hiring a defensive coordinator in advance of next season to improve the team on that end; the Knicks finished No. 7 in the NBA in offense and No. 22 in defense in 2010-11. New York finished No. 23 and No. 27 in D'Antoni's first two years in charge.
But does the concept of a defensive coordinator even work in the NBA?
Proponents would point to Tom Thibodeau's successful run with the Boston Celtics; in Thibs' three seasons serving as Doc Rivers' defensive guru, the Celtics finished in the top five every year. Thibodeau was hired by the Chicago Bulls last summer, and led his new team to the No. 1 defense in the league. (Former Nets coach Lawrence Frank took over Thibs' spot in Boston, and the C's finished No. 2 in defense this year.)
But look at what Thibodeau had to work with. Boston's stars were Kevin Garnett (best defender of the 2000s outside of perhaps Ben Wallace or Tim Duncan), Paul Pierce (a great wing defender with size, agility and smarts) and Ray Allen (one of the smarter guards in the league). He also had elite post defender Kendrick Perkins (who doubled as a terrific rebounder) and Rajon Rondo (the longest point guard in the history of measuring tapes). That's a pretty good core to work with!
The Knicks have ... uh. Ronny Turiaf will be under contract next season, but D'Antoni has played him only sparingly, despite a glaring need at center. Toney Douglas was considered a decent defender until Rondo lit him up in the playoffs. Carmelo Anthony is a solid rebounder for his position, and can defend when inspired to and when not required to carry an entire offense on his back, as he was in the playoffs.
A defensive coordinator -- even one as great of Thibodeau, of which there are probably none available -- cannot turn Amar'e Stoudemire into Kevin Garnett, and probably not even a Samuel Dalembert. To play better defense, the Knicks need better defensive players and a holistic determination to make defense as important as offense. As we've been over quite recently, that's not Mike D'Antoni's steez.
D'Antoni will play good defenders ... if they fit his offensive schema. See: Shawn Marion and Raja Bell. New York doesn't have those players, and adding a coach to come up with a defensive system that plays off of D'Antoni's offense is not going to help a whole lot, if at all.
Barring the acquisition of a strong defensive center -- Dalembert is available, by the way -- New York's best bet is moving Landry Fields to the bench and replacing him with a Tony Allen-type defender who can get back in the transition that will surely result for errant Knicks' threes. Defenders are cheap, and the Knicks need to rely on cheap pick-ups after picking up Chauncey Billups' $14.2 million salary. New York can't present the line-up it did at the end of the season and expect its defense to improve, no matter who joins D'Antoni on the bench.