On Monday morning, the Lakers confirmed reports of Mike D’Antoni agreeing to a three-year, $12 million deal in a move that should only revive questions surrounding whether the Lakers offense will revolve around two-time MVP Steve Nash or future Staples Center statue model Kobe Bryant.
The central criticism of D'Antoni's coaching style is that he often apathetic to defensive strategies. As many wins as D’Antoni accumulated in Phoenix, his offenses were often exposed in the playoffs as the pace slowed to a crawl against superior defensive units.
The widespread belief is that D’Antoni’s hiring also signals that entertainment value and a Nash-directed Showtime sequel won over prudence and winning championships. Prior to his untimely demise, recently-deposed head coach Mike Brown was already defending his decision not to make his offense a one-trick pick and roll pony that played to Nash's strengths.
“We could spread the floor and play pick and roll all the time … but it will make us one-dimensional,” he said. “So when we play the good teams, they’ll figure out how to stop that one thing that we’re good at … and when we’re in seven-game playoff series, for sure the later we get into the playoffs, they’ll be able to take us out of the offense because we’ll be so one-dimensional.”
In a world of two-dimensional championship contenders the Lakers may be on the fringe of becoming Roger Rabbit.
D’Antoni may not be the best long-term option but his hiring wasn’t too stunning. Never mind the fact that Phil Jackson was negotiating for more travel restrictions than the Secret Service booking President Obama on a midwest-bound Southwest Airlines flight but the Triangle is much too complex to begin teaching six games into the regular season.
In addition, a post-oriented offense in a league where post scorers are becoming increasingly vestigial pieces doesn’t make much sense.
Many believed that Brown’s firing was about Nash’s fit in the offense and D’Antoni’s hiring affirms those suspicions.
Bryant is a transcendent athlete who would thrive in just about any system. However, Nash is a niche-system player who appeared more lost in the Princeton offense than Kevin McHale waking up in Compton. Nash will dictate the offense while Howard will anchor the defense.
The read-and-react offense appeared labored, overcomplicated and slow.
The Lakers zombie pace will make a quick 180 once D’Antoni tinkers with the system.
Before Chip Kelly took his frenetic offense up north to Oregon, D’Antoni’s Seven Seconds or Less Offense was the quick-strike offense du jour in sports.
After reaching the peak of his head-coaching career came as he lorded over the Phoenix Suns, D’Antoni burned out under the bright lights of New York City.
In D’Antoni’s defense, no pun intended, his offense never fit his Knicks personnel and he was too stubborn to alter his system around the talent at his disposal.
Conversely, D’Antoni may fit this unit almost as well as Woodson’s style fits the undefeated Knicks.
In the SSOL offense, point guard is paramount. After Raymond Felton was dealt from New York to Denver in the blockbuster trade that brought Carmelo Anthony to Madison Square Garden, the cupboard was left bare and ‘Melo was pushed into duty as the point forward.
Following the emergence of Jeremy Lin, there was increased tension over D’Antoni’s overreliance on the former D-League player.
The catalyst in D’Antoni’s resignation was a direct result of management’s refusal to consider trading Carmelo Anthony, who struggled within his quick ball-movement offense, for Nets point guard Deron Williams.
"In Coach's system, the point guard is the man," one anonymous Knicks player told Stephen A. Smith following D’Antoni’s resignation in March. "He runs the show.”
The Knicks are a gritty franchise. Under the Buss family, glitz and glamour is the currency that puts butts in the seats. However, his philosophy of winning more than he loses won’t do in a situation where the ownership’s objective is to win it all.
Ironically, the original Showtime Lakers era began when the Guru of Go, Paul Westhead was hired to replace Jack McKinney, who was recovering from a near-fatal car accident.
In Tinseltown, D’Antoni will have the ultimate Lake Show roster at his disposal in the starting lineup and in the stands.
He’ll also have Jack Nickelson courtside. Nickelson is highly regarded for his dramatic chops but the Academy-Award winner watched the Showtime Lakers close enough to serve as an advisor to D’Antoni’s incomplete coaching staff.
Nash has always been a great scorer and an elite pure shooter off the dribble. However, it wasn’t until he paired with D’Antoni that his pick and roll creativity and vision made him a two-time MVP.
Nash isn’t quite Magic in his prime but he is a better shooter. Calling Bryant a slight upgrade over Byron Scott is as big of an understatement as calling Metta World Piece eccentric.
The bench is still problematic, especially for a unit that relies on four starters over 30 and will now run at a quicker pace than ever.
If Bryant doesn’t lead the league in scoring, it would be an M. Knight Shamalyn-esque surprise. Most importantly, Gasol and Howard should constitute the largest, most talented frontcourt D’Antoni has ever had on his roster.
D’Antoni’s final season in New York and Gentry’s version of the Suns SSOL offense in the years after D’Antoni proved that defense and breakneck speed offense weren’t mutually exclusive. Before his final season in New York, D’Antoni signed Tyson Chandler to account for Amare Stoudemire’s hole in the defense.
Defensively, healthy Howard is superior to even Chandler and Gasol may be the power forward, Stoudemire never was.
D’Antoni is the equivalent of a Hollywood director handed the keys to an Oscar-worthy screenplay, Tom Hanks and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. A Best Picture nomination is given. However, the right direction, camera angles and lighting is the difference between watching the winner break down on stage and having the music interrupt you midway through your own acceptance speech.
In June, D’Antoni has to return with hardware in hand. Showtime is back in L.A but as we all know, sequels are never as good as the original.