The panic button is slowly being reset in Los Angeles.
Heck, it was pushed more times over the last week or so than a commuter on a Toronto subway in rush hour. But now all is well as Lakers fans are looking forward to the Mike D’Antoni era.
Los Angeles hired the former Phoenix Suns bench boss to fix its ailing offence and hopefully lead them to an NBA title. It surprised many as the consensus was the Lakers were ready to welcome back former head coach, and Zen Master, Phil Jackson.
Not only were the fans surprised, so was D’Antoni himself. Somewhere people that remember the late comedian Richard Pryor’s standup routine about an unlikely mayoral victory are laughing.
It was almost a foregone conclusion that Jackson would ride in and save the day but as Kevin Nielsen tells you here there were more than a few snags that derailed the Jackson hiring. The truth probably lies somewhere in between the reports of Jackson’s outrageous demands and his claims that implied Los Angeles brass was not forthcoming with the truth.
So all is right in Lakerland, right? Well not so fast.
Let’s look at what D’Antoni worked with in Phoenix and draw some comparisons before they start fitting the Lakers for rings. Yes, he has Steve Nash, a guy who won two MVP awards for his supreme expertise in running D’Antoni’s offence in Phoenix.
The Suns were exciting but in composition, the team was a different. In comparison, Phoenix had a smaller quicker roster where they purposely played athletic players out of position to create mismatches for its run-and-shoot style. Shawn Marion with his small forward size, played the power forward position as a “stretch four” in that line-up. Amar’e Stoudemire was a face up power forward that played center spot and combined with Nash, their screen and roll game was devastating. They had three-point shooting with the likes of Raja Bell, Joe Johnson, Quentin Richardson and Eddie House. Leandro Barbosa fit the mould off the bench as a fast, athletic slashing player who ran the floor and knocked down the trey. Boris Diaw with that old man game was the perfect compliment and decision maker both inside and on the perimeter. Nash, in these eyes, one of, if not the greatest decision maker in screen and roll situations had the keys to the car that D’Antoni put on the road.
But this Lakers team is not the same and doesn’t have the same pieces that the successful Suns teams possessed. D’Antoni, widely accepted as an offensive genius will have his challenges with this current Los Angeles squad. Offensively, he will figure it out, the way he did when he designed offenses for USA Basketball in leading them to a couple of Olympic Gold Medals in 2008 and 2012. He always does.
But the foundation of the previous system that was based on playing people in different positions to create mismatches with the attitude of, “forget the defence, just keep scoring”, is going to be challenged this time around.
In the past those D’Antoni teams would, at times, purposely not foul to stop an opponent because they wanted to keep the pace of the game moving. How’s that for no defence?
In Phoenix, the middle of the court was purposely left open for Nash to penetrate, collapse the defence and find shooters, as well as run screen roll with Stoudemire if he chose not to score himself. Now, the middle of the floor is clogged by Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. True they could be great screeners to free up Nash, but neither is Stoudemire circa 2005.
As a coach not known for his defence, this D’Antoni team may be better defensively with Kobe Bryant on the perimeter and Howard’s presence in the middle than any squad he had in the desert.
Bryant is a strong personality and with Nash they will take care of the locker room. Nobody will step out of line. Realistically, D’Antoni’s teams have been average defensively and maybe even better than people give him credit for, but there is a perception that they don’t play any defence and it wasn’t helped by what happened when he moved on to coach the New York Knicks or by this account from a member of the 2007 Suns, Jalen Rose. Then there’s the bench. How will they score? Or wait, the Lakers don’t have much of a reserve corps but then again, it’s no big deal because D’Antoni doesn’t play his bench regularly. Don’t be surprised if players break down.
So congratulations Lakers fans. After all the hand wringing about Mike Brown and hoping to get Phil Jackson, you now have Mike D’Antoni and your hope is to become the Phoenix Suns from years ago with the addition of Kobe Bryant.
The pendulum has moved back in the other direction from Brown. There was consternation around the Princeton offence put in by Brown that should get fixed in D’Antoni’s system. Ironically, D’Antoni who is recovering from knee replacement surgery plans to coach his first game for the Lakers against the team where he made the system famous, the Phoenix Suns.
Can Los Angeles win a title? Sure, there may need to be more personnel moves made but they have a template in place. There is a limited championship window for this team and the pressure is on D’Antoni and the Lakers. If they don’t win, there will be second guessing about the hiring and Howard may choose to walk away at the end of the season.
It should be fun to watch how it all plays out.