Commentary

East Side: D'Antoni was right pick

Fans may not like it at first, but Mike D'Antoni is coach Los Angeles Lakers need

Originally Published: November 13, 2012
By Israel Gutierrez | ESPN.com

J.A. Adande and Israel Gutierrez are teaming up this season for a look at the NBA from two perspectives, called West Side/East Side.

J.A. is in L.A., the West Side. And Israel is down in Miami, home of the NBA champs, representing the East Side.

Enjoy.


Even in the basketball legends category, Phil Jackson stands out, having separated himself not only with the unmatched 11 championships, but with a regality and confidence that command respect.

But right now, today, for these Lakers, Jackson wasn't the best fit for this coaching vacancy.

As simple as it is to envision Jackson coming in and turning a team of superstars into champions -- probably because we've seen him do it before -- this wasn't the same situation.

And the Lakers did the right thing by hiring Mike D'Antoni.

This isn't defending the path the Lakers took to get here. The handling of Mike Brown was regrettable, and the flirtation with Jackson only to leave him stunned with a midnight phone call doesn't make the current Los Angeles brass look very organized.

But regardless of how they got here, they've gotten to the best place for their franchise.

What makes D'Antoni the correct choice isn't that he's a better coach than Jackson. He's simply a better fit.

The offense he ran with Steve Nash leading the way in Phoenix was so effective that the rest of the league essentially mimicked it.

The current NBA champion Miami Heat have different players pulling the triggers but effectively use the same approach. "Pace and Space" is the new "Seven Seconds or Less."

And what the Lakers have in Nash and Dwight Howard is the ideal duo to fit D'Antoni's system.

Nash didn't create the pick-and-roll, he just perfected it. In Phoenix, whether he was next to Amar'e Stoudemire or surrounded by shooters or simply paired with players who had good instincts for the game, he made everyone around him more efficient while still managing to shoot near 50 percent from the field himself.

And Howard, well, he has been in pick-and-roll systems for as long as he's been an All-Star. As the "roll" man, he has already been the most effective player in the league for years. And in this system, he could possibly be even more so.

And Jackson's triangle?

Well, in that setting, Nash would be much more of a spectator. On Jackson's Bulls and Lakers title teams, the point guard was either a 3-point specialist, a defender or a bit of both.

Nash's talents would be largely wasted if he were placed in that position.

And as much as we'd all love Howard to be more of a true low-post threat, he simply isn't.

As Shaquille O'Neal has said time and again, Howard doesn't get many of his points in the post. As a result, he's also not the best passer out of that position, which O'Neal clearly was.

There are those who would argue that catering to a 38-year-old Nash and a ring-less center isn't the way to go.

But that's exactly whom the franchise should cater to.

In Nash's case, he wasn't brought to Los Angeles to be a spot-up shooter and, frankly, his time is running out.

As for Howard, he's the most important piece in this entire equation.

If the Lakers are going to remain elite for years to come, Howard must re-sign with the team long-term after this season.

Should he leave, the Lakers will have gambled and lost.

There's also this little tidbit that has gone largely ignored:

Howard has been quite clear that he doesn't want to follow the exact path as O'Neal -- an idea he's already having a hard time fighting because he has played for the same first two franchises as O'Neal.

Well, put him in the middle of a Jackson-coached Lakers team, and what do you think happens? Shaq comparisons, Shaq expectations, Shaq offering endless criticisms. Shaq, Shaq, Shaq, Shaq, Shaq.

That's not even taking into account how Howard would want no part of Jackson's occasional head games that not even Shaq was immune to.

Put Howard in D'Antoni's open offense, let him pile up impressive numbers and let his personality shine in a player-friendly environment, and the Lakers are giving themselves the best chance at retaining the big man, whether they win a title this season or not.

The Lakers don't have enough shooters to play D'Antoni's offense effectively, you say?

Maybe, but Nash, Kobe Bryant, Jodie Meeks, Steve Blake, Metta World Peace from the corners and Antawn Jamison from the power forward position, that's a good start. And shooters aren't the hardest thing to find in the trade market.

A Kobe problem, you say? Kobe isn't at the same stage in his career that Carmelo Anthony is. He won't be nearly as stubborn -- especially since there will still be opportunities to isolate him, and at this stage in his career, he wouldn't mind a few easy, open 3-pointers to pad the scoring totals.

D'Antoni coaches no defense, you say?

That's an infuriating argument.

His Phoenix teams played average defense, at least by the numbers, and that was despite the fact their star interior player, Stoudemire, had little to no interest in defense at the time.

D'Antoni's Knicks teams struggled defensively, but that entire experiment was a mess. In that case, the star player, Anthony, simply wasn't happy with his role, and that translated to a lack of effort.

With Kobe, World Peace and Howard on this Lakers team, the defensive desire is already in place.

For Kobe, this has to work if he's going to get his sixth ring, so he won't let defensive effort be the reason it fails.

And what of Pau Gasol?

He's such a versatile big man, he can play in any system. But his Spanish teams run a lot of pick-and-roll with crafty point guards similar to Nash, so D'Antoni's system fits him especially well.

The "Phil has 11 rings" is more of a crutch than an actual argument.

He's a great coach, a great motivator. But he's not infallible. He can't come in and expect this team to pick up the triangle offense, have Nash carve out a niche within it, have Howard become a better post-up player and do it all in enough time to get to the Finals this season. He's not a magician.

At least with D'Antoni, you'll be putting players in their comfort zones.

And to dismiss D'Antoni as someone who can't win a title is ridiculous. How many people said the same thing about Erik Spoelstra until he won it last season? How many people openly questioned whether Doc Rivers was the right coach for Boston's Big Three prior to the 2007-08 season?

D'Antoni can't be a championship coach until he's a championship coach. You can't shake the label until you've done it.

How the Lakers went from Brown to D'Antoni will be remembered as one of the more embarrassing segments in the franchise's history.

But they still landed in a great spot -- even if won't be a living legend leading them.

Israel Gutierrez is an NBA writer for ESPN.com.