Love him or hate him, Mike D'Antoni's time in New York was a failure. D'Antoni failed to make it to a single NBA Finals appearance with either the Phoenix Suns or the New York Knicks and is now being sold as a better choice to coach the Los Angeles Lakers than the eleven-time championship coach — five with the Lakers — and former Knicks player, Phil Jackson. He's not, don't believe the hype. In fact, D'Antoni likely wont end his streak of zero Finals appearances either. That's not a Knicks bias or a blind D'Antoni hate. There are plenty of reasons to support that prediction and even more reasons why the Lakers will struggle to reach their ultimate goal under Mike D'Antoni.
Lets just get this out of the way, Mike D'Antoni can coach. He knows basketball and is known as an innovator on offense. That being said, he's an elite offensive coordinator and an average — at best — head coach. His philosophy is basically to run and run and run some more and speed the game up to increase offensive opportunities. That being said, he runs extremely basic offensive sets and his style of defense is more offense. His teams don't stop anyone, they simply try to outscore their opponents every night.
During his time as a head coach in the NBA D'Antoni's teams have ranked (2003-04) 26th, (2004-05) 30th, (2005-06) 28th, (2006-07) 23rd, (2007-08) 25th, (2008-09) 28th, (2009-10) 28th, (2010-11) 28th in team defense. That's not counting his one season as Denver Nuggets head coach where they won only 14 games or his final season in New York where they won only 18 games before he stepped down. The 2009-10 Knicks also ranked 30th in field goal percentage defense.
He simply doesn't believe in it, doesn't coach it and doesn't spend much — if any — time on defense in practice. It's the reason he was run out of Phoenix and available to come to New York. It's the reason the Knicks forced him to hire Mike Woodson as his assistant. It's ultimately the reason why D'Antoni was going to be fired — although he officially resigned — and Woodson was kept on as the Knicks head coach.
There are negatives and positives for all coaching hires. The most positive thing for Los Angeles is this is probably the closest their offense can get to their "Showtime" days. This also re-unites D'Antoni with the greatest offensive quarterback and elite point guard he's worked with, Steve Nash. Beyond that, Nash should be able to thrive with Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard using the pick and roll. Additionally, D'Antoni and Kobe Bryant have a great relationship and can be seen speaking Italian to one another whenever their paths cross. D'Antoni also has experience with Kobe and Howard as an Olympic assistant coach.
The Lakers are Bryant's team. That's a huge positive for D'Antoni as he's known Bryant since he was 12 years old and since Bryant was born in Italy and speaks Italian he and D'Antoni have always shared that bond. Keeping Bryant on his side will help D'Antoni with his job security. However, the downside is that Bryant is use to being the focal point — and for good reason — of the offense. In D'Antoni's offense the point guard is the focal point and the shooting guard is primarily a wing player. That does not play to Bryant's strengths as a player.
Furthermore, Gasol and Howard don't work well together for this system. Either can thrive in the pick and roll but together on the floor they clog the paint for one another. It would make sense that the Lakers would want to showcase Howard and make him the main pick and roll partner with Nash as to keep Howard happy in hopes of re-signing him. Gasol isn't a good enough jump shooter to compliment Howard in this system. This hiring also basically says that the Lakers don't believe in Howard's post up game and will abandon it because that is not a concept in D'Antoni's system.
Another problem with this system being used with the Lakers roster is their lack of three point shooters. Jodie Meeks should be the happiest Laker, outside of Nash, that D'Antoni has become the coach. Meeks is the one solid three point shooter on the roster. This system is going to lead to players who are sub-par shooters throwing up shots all over the court.
All of this is not to say the Lakers won't win regular season games. This offense averaged 58 wins a season during D'Antoni's time with the Phoenix Suns. If everyone, mainly Bryant, can buy into an offense where no one is a star and the ball runs through the point guards hands they should put a lot of points on the board and win a good number of games.
That being said, teaching your team to push the ball and basically play fast-break offense the entire game is the same kind of basic coaching you get in middle and high schools across America. D'Antoni isn't a genius, he basically stole the Paul Westhead coaching style. Beyond that, despite being called an innovator, his plays drawn up on the sideline during time outs are often very basic and quick to fail with no backup incase the defense reads the play. How does a man who teaches fast-breaks, pick and rolls and no defense earn a contract of $12MM over three years after giving up on Phoenix and re-signing from New York?
However, look for a honeymoon period where D'Antoni, Nash and Bryant declare their love for one another and the Lakers start winning games. This is an offense that is very easy to pick up and Bryant should still be expected to be the focal point in the fourth quarter.
Gasol may need to be traded to make room for Howard to do his job and to acquire perimeter shooters. D'Antoni has never had a center like Howard. The closes he ever game was when Phoenix acquired Shaquille O'Neal towards the end of his career. The offense struggled because he and Amare Stoudemire got in each others way.
D'Antoni has been quick to blame the roster for his lack of results during his career. If the offense is stalling it's because he doesn't have the point guard he needs, if the team isn't hitting enough three's its because he doesn't have the shooters he needs, if they can't get defensive stops it's because the players aren't giving effort.
The Lakers and their fan base aren't going to accept him trying to passing the buck. He has a Defensive Player of the Year in Howard. He has an elite scorer in Bryant. He has an elite point guard who won two NBA MVP's under D'Antoni in the past. While he doesn't have perimeter shooters he does have enough to get results. Excuses won't be acceptable.
Here's the thing, winning in the regular season is not the Lakers goal. D'Antoni could probably have a long and happy career in Toronto or Utah where they'd enjoy a fun and exciting product but know they really aren't contenders. The Lakers want to win rings. Is D'Antoni the man to lead them to a championship? That seems very doubtful.
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