Though Phil Jackson is the greatest coach of all time, Mike D’Antoni could be a better fit for the Lakers.
Hiring Phil Jackson would be the right hire for Kobe. They have familiarity, and the same two-year window. Presumably, they would ride off into the sunset together in two years, leaving the Lakers in the (very good) position of having Dwight Howard, cap space, a year of Steve Nash, and almost nothing else on the books.
However, hiring Mike D’Antoni offers the Lakers a further future advantage, allowing them to transition to the next era of Lakers’ basketball around Dwight Howard, without sacrificing the present.
Following Kobe’s expected retirement in 2-3 years, the Lakers can look to replicate “Showtime” with Dwight Howard and Mike D’Antoni. With Dwight in place as the defensive anchor, and D’Antoni’s brilliant offensive system – all LA needs to do is match players to their “Showtime” roles. Flush with cap space, and with Dwight Howard as Kareem, the Lakers can choose from the following 2015 free agents to be “Magic.”: LeBron James, Rajon Rondo, Kyrie Irving and Tony Parker. There are plenty of Byron Scott/James Worthy types available as well, like Dwayne Wade and Klay Thompson. With D’Antoni in place (assuming his next couple of years are successful with Nash and KB), the Lakers have an identity to build around Dwight.
Had the Lakers hired Phil and ran the triangle, the odds are that the next two seasons would have been good. However, after Phil and Kobe’s likely retirement in 2014, the Lakers would need to find a new identity while Dwight Howard is already in his prime. The Lakers would then need to find a coach and system they wanted to bring in before building a team to fit it, which could take several years, and cost years of Dwight’s championship window.
Meanwhile Mike D’Antoni gives them an identity: Showtime. The team can build around Dwight Howard seamlessly after Kobe retires, with a system and superstar in place, while still competing for the rest of Kobe’s career.
While many question D’Antoni’s emphasis on defense, with a team built around Dwight Howard, this should not be a problem. With Howard in the middle, and Metta World Peace and noted ballhawk Kobe on the wings, the Lakers are equipped to defend in ways that D’Antoni’s Phoenix and New York teams were not. A great defense can create offense, and Mike D’Antoni very well could construct a scheme to use the Lakers’ defense to get the team easy offense, as the Showtime Lakers did once upon a time.
D’Antoni should be able to tailor his system to his players, as he did in Phoenix. With the Suns, Mike got the most out of great, yet flawed players. Built around human turnstile Amare Stoudemire, and Steve Nash, D’Antoni knew that team would never win with defense. Instead, Mike utilized the athleticism and shooting on that team (Amare, Marion, Joe Johnson), and Nash’s amazing point guard skills, to create a perennial 60 win team from players who never had that kind of success without him.
Until Nash met D’Antoni, he was an NBA 3rd team caliber player. Top 15, but nowhere near MVP discussion. D’Antoni morphed Nash into a 2-time MVP. Mike made Joe Johnson a max contract player, and coached Amare – a one-dimensional scorer – to his highest scoring years of his career (and a max contract in New York).
A team of flawed players won a lot of games under Mike D’Antoni. For the Suns, “Seven Seconds or Less” was the best way to get the most out of that talent, and D’Antoni coached an enormous amount of success out of the talent available.
Now, the Lakers have more, and different talents than D’Antoni’s Suns had. D’Antoni should be able to get the most out of them as well. Add a little defense, and a true center like Dwight Howard, and “Seven Seconds or Less” suddenly becomes “Showtime.”
For the Lakers and Dwight Howard, “Showtime” should be the future. For the present, it should work just fine as well. With Mike D’Antoni, the Lakers are not mortgaging their future for the sake of the present, as they would be with Jackson. D’Antoni is qualified to lead them now, and positioned to transition the Lakers into the future.
With Mike D’Antoni and Dwight Howard in the fold, the future is now. It’s Showtime!