L.A. hired Mike D’Antoni on Monday to lead the team through the final 75 games of this season and beyond. The two sides agreed upon a three-year deal worth $12 million. There is also a team option for a fourth year.
D’Antoni won the job over Phil Jackson, who seemed to be the prohibitive favorite to return as the Lakers head coach. Jackson, who has a strong following in Southern California after several seasons coaching the Lakers, was reportedly ready to take the job on Monday morning, but was stunned when he heard the news.
The move is a surprise to many people. L.A. passed on a coach that has won 11 championships in 20 career seasons, including five with the Lakers. He’s already coached Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol for multiple years, and would have had the full support of the Lakers players, unlike Brown.
Did the Lakers make the right decision by hiring D’Antoni?
Jackson made some demands while negotiating with Los Angeles. He reportedly wanted to limit the number of road games he had to attend, and wanted more control over decisions that were made by upper management. However, the move has been said to be a basketball decision.
Brown’s Princeton style offense was not working this season, and the Lakers brass was concerned about Jackson implementing his triangle offense. Bryant, Gasol, Metta World Peace and Steve Blake are the only players that have previously played under that offensive system. Team executives felt that D’Antoni’s face-paced offensive style would work better for L.A.
Steve Nash might benefit the most from D’Antoni’s hiring. He had his best years while playing for D’Antoni with the Phoenix Suns. Before Nash got hurt against the Portland Trail Blazers, he struggled in Brown’s offense, registering just four assists in two games. When Nash returns from his injury, he could return to his old form.
Bryant is a Jackson supporter, having won five rings with the legendary coach. However, he is on board with the Lakers choice. Bryant knows D’Antoni from his time with the U.S. Olympic team, and has been a fan of his for years. Idolizing D'Antoni from his playing days in Italy, Bryant wore a No. 8 jersey (D'Antoni's number with Olimpia Milano) for most of his career.
The Lakers offense could benefit greatly from the move. D’Antoni is known as one of the greatest offensive minds in basketball, and could be exactly what a struggling Los Angeles offense needs. Once Nash is healthy, the combination of he and two talented big men in Gasol and Dwight Howard could be an explosive combination.
The biggest concern is D’Antoni’s reputation for ignoring the defensive side of the ball. He’s known as a poor defensive coach, and is taking over a team that has had trouble stopping opposing offenses.
D'Antoni’s harshest critics contend that it is his poor defensive scheme that has plagued his teams in the playoffs. From 2004-2008, the Suns averaged 58 wins per season, but never reached the NBA Finals. In his one postseason appearance with the New York Knicks, D’Antoni’s team was swept by the Boston Celtics in the first round.
While D’Antoni may not be a great defensive mind, the criticism of his teams on the defensive end may be overblown. During his time in Phoenix, the Suns were average, not at the bottom of the NBA, in defensive efficiency. Last season, when D’Antoni was fired by the Knicks, New York was the fifth best defensive team in the league.
Howard’s presence in the middle could overshadow most of D’Antoni’s defensive shortcomings. The addition of the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler turned New York into a strong defensive unit. Howard might be able to do the same for the Lakers, having won the award in each of the previous three seasons.
The Lakers traded for Howard after he recently underwent back surgery. The center doesn’t look like he’s fully recovered, and hasn’t been the dominant player that he once was. As he returns to full strength, his presence in the middle of L.A.’s defense could be enough to turn Los Angeles into a top defensive team in the West.
D’Antoni certainly wasn’t the safe pick for L.A. to make. Jackson is considered by many to be the greatest NBA coach of all time, and the Lakers have first-hand knowledge about what he can do.
If D’Antoni can bring another title to Los Angeles, it will be considered a brilliant move by Jerry Buss and the organization. If he fails to turn the Lakers 2012-2013 season around, it could haunt L.A. for years to come.