Monday, November 12, 2012
Pros and cons of the D'Antoni hiring
By Dave McMenamin
There is still a bit of shock making its way throughout Southern California as Lakers fans learn that Mike D'Antoni, not Phil Jackson, has been hired as the team's new coach.
There's plenty of intrigue surrounding the decision -- the circumstances that led to Jackson's deal falling through, the impetus for the Lakers making a swift decision late Sunday night to hire D'Antoni without ever even having an in-person interview with him, the details of the state of Jackson's relationship with the Buss family these days -- but what really matters is how D'Antoni will affect the team on the floor.
Here's a quick take on the upside and some potential problems with the move:
1. Familiarity with Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant
You could say that if it wasn't for D'Antoni, we'd think of the Lakers' point guard as former All-Star Steve Nash, rather than future Hall of Famer Steve Nash. From 2004 to 2008, Nash and D'Antoni flourished together in Phoenix. There is a deep connection between the two and certainly D'Antoni should be able to set Nash free from the "hummingbird in a sandwich bag" that Mike Brown's system trapped him in. As an assistant coach for the USA Basketball teams that won Olympic gold in 2008 and 2012, D'Antoni also built a strong relationship with Kobe Bryant. Both Nash and Bryant used the word "love" to describe their feelings for D'Antoni prior to the hiring. They will play hard for D'Antoni and with enthusiasm for what he is trying to achieve on the court. Plus, you have to figure that D'Antoni and Nash's shared desire to capture ring No. 1 for one another will help fuel Bryant's chances of ring No. 6 and the Lakers' chances of ring No. 17.
2. The offense should improve
If there's one thing D'Antoni has proved he can do it is make a high-octane offense work. This won't be a repeat of his "seven seconds or less" glory days with the Suns, but it shouldn't be the plodding ball that plagued Brown's tenure at the helm in Los Angeles, either. The Lakers looked stifled with the steep learning curve associated with Brown's Princeton-style experiment. D'Antoni will let Nash follow his instincts and also encourage the rest of the guys to shoot when they're open. Basic basketball and a free flow could pay big dividends with this talented roster.
3. It was done quickly
Less than 72 hours after getting rid of Brown, the Lakers found their new man. And they managed to go 2-0 with Bernie Bickerstaff during the interim. If the coaching search dragged on and on, there was potential for the team to fall into a tailspin with all the questions piling up and causing distractions. This move was executed as quickly as possible, allowing the Lakers to get back to the business of playing games.
1. Nash is 38 and has a fractured fibula
Nash is not the same player he was with D'Antoni in Phoenix. He can still play at a high level, of course, as he was second in the league in assists last season (his 16th year in the league), but there has been some decline in his game. The league's crop of elite point guards, from Chris Paul to Russell Westbrook, is as strong as it's ever been and Nash's defensive shortcomings will be put on display on a near nightly basis against them. Nash also looked a step slower on offense in the preseason. Whether that was a symptom of Brown's system or a sign of deterioration in his game remains to be seen. Regardless, relying so heavily on Nash, especially as he's dealing with a fractured fibula that is keeping him out indefinitely, is risky. And even if Nash is healthy, does he have the shooters surrounding him to look as good as he did in Phoenix? Outside of Kobe and Nash himself, the Lakers haven't proven reliable on open-shot opportunities. If Nash keeps creating them, and the jumpers continue to be off the mark, then a key element of Nash's value is undercut.
2. The devaluation of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol
Part of the Lakers' mission this season, in addition to winning a championship, is to make sure Dwight Howard wants to stay with the team long term. Will D'Antoni's system feature Howard enough? Yes, he will be a beast in the pick-and-roll, but what about straight-up post touches? Will he get enough of them? And will D'Antoni be able to push Howard to improve his paint game when he had mixed results in that area with Amar'e Stoudemire in Phoenix and New York? Then there's Gasol. Will he be regulated to a Boris Diaw-like facilitator role or is there more for him to do? One of the key questions coming into D'Antoni's regime will be how much he is able to, and chooses to, exploit the Lakers' significant size advantage over most teams they face.
3. What about the defense?
D'Antoni's offensive track record is nearly unparalleled but defensively his teams have usually been in the middle of the pack in terms of efficiency. There was marked defensive improvement on the part of the Knicks in D'Antoni's last season in New York, but much of the credit for that improvement was given to current Knicks coach, and former D'Antoni assistant, Mike Woodson. The old adage "defense wins championships" isn't just a saying for these Lakers players, it's a belief -- especially for Bryant, who has repeated the mantra "defense and rebounding" as the keys to winning ever since the Lakers were suffocated by the Boston Celtics' D in the 2008 Finals. If D'Antoni's offense can generate enough possessions and points to counter-balance an average defense, things will go smoothly. If the offense struggles, either on the perimeter or down low, the pressure will be on the team's defense.