Defense wins championships. That is what everyone says. That is the biggest bunch of BS in sports. Execution wins in sports on offense and defense. In a playoff series a team that executes the best on both sides of the ball is the team that wins
Now understand that it is easier for an offensive minded coach to improve defensively than it is for a defensive minded coach to improve his offense. Defense believe it or not is about commitment. Scheme actually does not really come into it, because all teams play the same basic schemes defensively, some just use one scheme more than another, or disguise their schemes differently, but that is it. There are 6 basic defensive schemes in the NBA, and the only difference is the personal touches coaches put on them. For example Thom Thibodeau plays mostly zone, although you will not hear that on ESPN. The Bulls play a 3-2 match up zone, as do the Celtics, the Heat and the Memphis Grizzlies. The basic goal of a match up zone is to cut off dribble penetration, swarm the post and to force teams to take jump shots. The irony is that every coach in the NBA including D'Antoni plays some variation of Thibodeau's defense they just do not do it as long.
Since defensive schemes are limited, improving on defense is about getting players to understand your primary scheme, having the talent to play your primary scheme, and getting the commitment to consistently execute that scheme. I pointed out in a previous fanpost that D'Antoni's defensive schemes were sound, but his players did not consistently execute those schemes. Now in that post I plainly laid the blame on three things, lack of personnel, lack of player commitment, and lack of practice time. Personnel issues a coach cannot do anything about unless he is also the GM, a coach must overcome personnel shortcomings. Player commitment is the fault of the coach, however a coach can only influence that when he has the relationship with his players to motivate them. During D'Antoni's tenure the Knicks have been a revolving door, thus he has not had the time it takes to build the relationships nor I suspect the motivation to do so. When your roster changes every three months it is all you can do to remember guys names let alone motivate them to play defense. Lastly, practice also falls on the coach. Defense is a habit, you can overcome personnel and motivation issues with practice. The more time you spend on defense in practice, the more it becomes a habit.
D'Antoni clearly realizes this. That is why he pushed for the Knicks to basically re-sign as many of the players who ended the season on the team as possible. The reason for that is simple, these guys at least have some understanding of the offense, so more time can be spent on defense in practice. The Knicks like most NBA teams hold 2 hour practices during the season, if D'Antoni or his defensive assistant can spend 1.5 hours on defense in each practice, the execution of the defense will get better even if the personnel does not. You do not have to be a great defender to get back on defense. Likewise you do not have to be a great defender to be in the right spot on the floor on defense. Lastly you do not have to be a great defender to make the correct rotation in help defense or box out. However simply getting back, being in the right spots, making the correct rotations and boxing out will get you stops even if you have 5 David Lees on the floor.
The likelihood of D'Antoni figuring out how to get his team to do that is far greater than Thibodeau or Spoelstra developing offensive systems that will consistently score points. And contrary to what Tim Leglar and Stephen A. Smith may think, the only way to win a basketball game or a championship is to score more points than the other team.
Does D'Antoni need to figure out how to get his team to consistently hold an opponent to 90 points when they have to in order to win a game, he sure does if he wants to win a title. However Spoelstra and Thibodeau need to figure out how to get their teams to score 100pts in a game when they need to in order to win a title. Because no matter how good your defense is sooner or later you are going to run into a team that figures out how to score points against your defense. Likewise no matter how good your offense is, sooner or later you are going to have to figure out how to win a defensive battle in order to win a series or a championship. It takes a lot longer for a coach to develop a sound offensive philosophy than it does for a coach to get sound defense out of a team. In fact some coaches like Jeff Van Gundy never learned how to coach offense, and even having players who can score will not help an offensively deficient coach. The 1998-99 Knicks averaged 86pts a game with Ewing, Sprewell, Johnson, and Houston on the roster, which was 2nd to last in the league. Anyone think that even Larry Brown couldn't have cracked 90pts a game with that line up? Hell even Hubie Brown with such great offensive stalwarts as Rory Sparrow, James Bailey and Pat Cummings managed to score 98pts a game. I bet you guys do not even remember that those dudes were Knicks.