LOS ANGELES – Kobe Bryant was laughing when he said it, but there was some truth to his words.
When a reporter asked him Sunday evening about the Lakers blowing out their last two opponents after the team fired Mike Brown and named Bernie Bickerstaff as the interim coach, Bryant said: “He’s good. He’s getting the f--- out of the way.”
Enter Mike D’Antoni and an offensive philosophy that will free up the Lakers’ attack and allow them to play an up-tempo style of basketball that hasn’t been seen around these parts since the “Showtime” era.
For the first time since Steve Nash and Dwight Howard arrived in Los Angeles, we can begin talking about what they can accomplish in a system that could play to their strengths rather than wondering how long it will take them to adapt to one that took them out of their comfort zones.
Nash and Howard seemed like a tantalizing pick-and-roll prospect when they arrived in the offseason – particularly in combination with the shooting talents of Bryant and passing acumen of Pau Gasol – but the Lakers’ offense too often looked hamstrung and uncertain under Brown. Watching them struggle through the rigidity of it all, you wished you could scrap the system and just tell them to have fun.
That’s essentially what the Lakers did Monday. They simplified things. They made it a game more than a system, and my guess is it won’t be long before their players and fans start enjoying themselves again.
Once upon a time, when Paul Westhead, who has a master’s degree in English literature from Villanova, took over a talented Lakers squad 14 games into the 1979-80 season, he invoked some Shakespeare (from “Macbeth”) with a young Magic Johnson: “If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly.” Johnson looked at Westhead, nodded his head and said, “I get it, you want me to get the ball and run it down the court and score."
There are wrinkles and nuances to D’Antoni’s push-the-pace offense, but its exuberance might be its greatest attribute, given the season he is walking into and the team he is coming to lead. The team is 3-4 and needs to win a title to deliver on the promise of its talent. This isn’t exactly the time to learn a new offense, whether it be the Princeton or the triangle.
With D’Antoni, the focus will be on generating possessions and open shots. You know Bryant, who likes to shoot, is going to have some fun. And there’s no question D’Antoni’s hire will please Nash, who won back-to-back MVPs under him in Phoenix and who will know his role well under his old coach. But perhaps no one will benefit more from D’Antoni’s arrival than Howard.
As far as pick-and-roll offenses go, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Howard has been the most efficient “roll” man in the NBA over the past three seasons. During Nash’s time with D’Antoni in Phoenix, the Suns were one of the best in the league at running the pick-and-roll and led the league in offensive efficiency for the “roll” man in three of four seasons from 2004 to '08 (the one exception being the 2005-06 season, when Amar’e Stoudemire missed 79 games).
Considering Howard is an unrestricted free agent after this season, the importance of his comfort level can’t be overstated, and D’Antoni’s style, which should feature him in an attack-the-basket mode, could help secure his future with the Lakers. Although there might not be many traditional low-post opportunities, the young, dynamic center could very well have a field day in a D’Antoni offensive scheme.
And although it might not all come together overnight (unlike D’Antoni’s coaching deal), you can’t tell me that won’t be fun to watch.