Hollinger: D'Antoni the right choice for Lakers
Posted November 12, 2012 - 11:37 AM
L.A.'s decision to fire Brown on Friday was the kind of knee-jerk silliness that we'd normally expect from Sacramento or the Knicks -- if you thought the guy was good enough on opening day, five games shouldn't change your mind. To that extent, it may hint at some larger issues in the Lakers' front office under Jim Buss.
It's also highly illogical that the Lakers were so focused on the merits of their coaching candidate's offenses -- Princeton versus Triangle versus Seven Seconds or Less -- when the Lakers' failing in their first five games came almost entirely at the defensive end. Even after two strong home wins under the undefeated Bernie Bickerstaff, the Lakers are just 18th in defensive efficiency.
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Nonetheless, Brown's decision to shepherd in the Slowtime Era was an unwieldy mistake given his personnel, and the Lakers clearly came into the season already harboring a lot of doubts about him. I'll offer this additional critique that was scarcely mentioned -- he was playing the key players way too many minutes.
As for D'Antoni, he never quite got his due for what he accomplished in Phoenix, implementing a system with Nash that basically shocked the league for a few years while everyone figured out how to guard it (and eventually copy it). D'Antoni effectively provided the blueprint for how teams could space the floor and take advantage of the mid-decade hand-checking rules, and he still does it better than anyone else.
Somehow, the narrative on this accomplishment turned from "he completely knocked the league on its [butt]" to "he took a 29-win team and prevented it from winning a championship." What D'Antoni did in Phoenix was historic.
But it's a copycat league, and once Phoenix's system was copied, the surprise factor wasn't quite as strong. You now see elements of D'Antoni's offense all over the league -- Phoenix still uses it, and most of the league's other teams have appropriated large chunks of it. One of the few resistors, actually, was the Lakers.
You can see the impact over time. The Suns led the league in offensive efficiency the first three seasons Nash and D'Antoni worked together, with the first season in particular being one of the best offensive teams in history. But by his final season, the Suns were second, and his clubs in New York were 17th three times in four seasons.
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In other words, just like everywhere else, the players usually matter a lot more than the system. For a brief window, D'Antoni was able to get the "system" part of that equation punching way above its weight.
D'Antoni will have some players in L.A., fortunately, starting with Nash. He might be a bit older and a bit slower than he was in his heyday, but he is still one of the best pick-and-roll practitioners you'll ever see. With Dwight Howard as a roll man, Kobe Bryant on the weak side with Metta World Peace (who, despite his other faults, is a good corner 3-point shooter), and Pau Gasol lifting for midrange jumpers, the Lakers certainly have enough weapons to make this half-court system work.
And make no mistake, this is mostly a half-court system. Seven Seconds or Less is a catchy name, but this system has more to do with drag screens for Nash and quick-hitting plays early in the shot clock than it does with players flying up and down the court in transition, especially if Leandro Barbosa and Shawn Marion aren't involved. Every one of D'Antoni's teams has finished in the top 10 in pace, as have every one of Nash's teams, but it's been a long time since either led the league or even came close. With this roster, one shouldn't necessarily expect Showtime 2.0.
Of course, the real way to look at the D'Antoni decision is by comparing it to the alternatives. I think we can immediately throw out the "he never won a ring" critique, as there was only one viable candidate who had. Otherwise, the only coaches who are (a) alive, (b) unemployed, and © won a title in the last quarter-century are Rudy Tomjanovich -- been there, done that -- and Larry Brown, who has since evolved into a parody of himself.
Among the rest of the field, D'Antoni was the one who had the best chance to get the, er, strong-willed Kobe Bryant to go along with the program, given the experience the two have had with USA Basketball and their shared quasi-Italian bond.
With one exception, obviously: Phil Jackson. Nonetheless, I thought D'Antoni was the right move based on the information that's out there. No sitting exec is going to willingly cede power, as Jackson apparently wanted, and having him skip road games wasn't going to be practical. One can argue the Lakers should have kept the door open for longer while negotiating with Jackson -- D'Antoni literally wasn't going anywhere, as he's recovering from knee-replacement surgery -- but the endgame seemed pretty clear, and hiring Phil under those terms would have been nearly as knee-jerky as firing Brown.
Which leaves us with D'Antoni, and his challenge of managing Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant. The coach had trouble standing up to an iso-happy scorer with a big ego in New York (Carmelo Anthony); how is he going to fare with these two?
It's a fair question; that and doubts about D'Antoni's defensive chops are his two biggest obstacles to success in L.A. Nonetheless, there should be enough touches to go around for everybody, especially once Howard sees how many uncontested dunks Nash can get him. As for the defense, D'Antoni's teams were more "average" than "bad" at this end, but the critique that he has almost entirely focused on the offense from a practice and preparation standpoint has been widespread. With a defensive dominator like Howard, there's no excuse for L.A. not to have a top-10 defense.
D'Antoni's other challenge may be his roster. His later teams in Phoenix succeeded even when there wasn't a ton of shooting on the court -- the frontcourt was Marion-Boris Diaw-Amare Stoudemire -- but they were in the top four in 3-pointers every year. The Lakers' roster just doesn't have that kind of shooting.
A few short-term fixes can improve the situation a bit. We'll probably see a lot more of Jodie Meeks, and Antawn Jamison may see more minutes as a floor-spacing 4 rather than a fish-out-of-water 3. We may even see Steve Blake playing off the ball as a 2.
I also wouldn't be surprised to see the Lakers pursue another wing shooter. They'll probably inquire about Miami's little-used James Jones, a veteran of D'Antoni's system, and kick the tires on guys like Shawne Williams and Raja Bell, if Bell can ever work a buyout with Utah. (Side note: You also gotta think Barbosa is bummed he chose Boston over L.A.)
But in the short term, D'Antoni may have to play more traditional iso basketball. With Nash out and Blake nursing an abdominal injury, he's left entrusting his precious offense to Chris Duhon and Darius Morris. Egads.
Of course, the short term isn't what the Lakers are worrying about. (Well, unless it involves Mike Brown.) More practically, D'Antoni has 75 games to get the Lakers' offense humming at the championship-caliber level everyone expected before the season, and to do it with enough defensive integrity that they can, at the very least, make the conference finals. It remains to be seen if he can do that, but from here it seems he has a better chance than just about anyone else.
Posted November 12, 2012 - 12:23 PM
Posted November 12, 2012 - 12:32 PM
Posted November 12, 2012 - 12:35 PM
Posted November 12, 2012 - 12:38 PM
Kobe's Kobe. I think he'll be fine (hope)
I am more concerned about kobe and gasol than nash ..
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