The Los Angeles Lakers decision this week to hire Mike D’Antoni as head coach has been a very contentious one.
When L.A. fired Mike Brown, coaching legend Phil Jackson seemed to be the obvious replacement. The Hall of Famer made it known that he wanted to come back to the Lakers, after several seasons of success in L.A.
Instead, executive vice president Jim Buss went with D’Antoni, a coach who has never reached the NBA Finals in his 11-year head coaching career. Former Lakers great Magic Johnson expressed his displeasure with Buss’s decision, saying Jackson should be on the bench for L.A.
“I don't feel Mike D'Antoni is the right coach for the Lakers," said Johnson, who works for ESPN. "Especially when you have Phil Jackson sitting out there, who wanted to be the Laker coach. Jim Buss decided he didn't want Phil Jackson, he wanted Mike D'Antoni. And that's OK, but why didn't you just say that? But the fans were cheering for Phil Jackson two nights in a row."
Johnson may not like the move, but Buss and the rest of the Lakers organization have a few reasons why D’Antoni was the right guy for L.A.
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The fact that D’Antoni hasn’t had as much success as Jackson may have worked in his favor. Jackson reportedly had a list of demands that Los Angeles was unwilling to meet, such as letting him miss some road games and giving him some ownership stake in the team. Some of these facts have been disputed, but Jackson is known for wanting things done his way. D’Antoni’s desire to simply coach the Lakers made him a much easier hire.
Jackson left L.A. less than two years ago, but the club’s roster has seen a lot of turnover since then. Just four players remain from the Lakers team that was eliminated by the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 playoffs.
Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol thrived in Jackson’s triangle offense, but they also have a chance to be very successful in D’Antoni’s system. Gasol’s athleticism and ability to shoot at 7’0 makes him an ideal big man in D’Antoni’s offense.
Bryant is a big Jackson supporter, but D’Antoni might’ve been his top choice, other than his former coach. The five-time champion has been a fan of D’Antoni’s since he watched him play in Italy as a kid, even wearing his No.8 when he first entered the league. D’Antoni coached Bryant in the last two Olympic Games, and helped Team USA win back-to-back gold medals.
Even more so than Bryant and Gasol, Steve Nash will likely benefit under D’Antoni. The point guard had his best years with D’Antoni and the Phoenix Suns, winning two MVP’s in the process. It’s unknown when Nash will be ready to return from the fracture in his left leg, but when he does, the Lakers could have the most dynamic offense in the league.
With Nash at the helm of D’Antoni’s offense, we could see an offense reminiscent to the “Showtime Lakers.” It’s a much more exciting brand of basketball than what Brown had instituted, and what we would have seen with Jackson back in L.A.
The Lakers are certainly trying to win this year, but the move to bring in D’Antoni was also made for the future. At 67 years old, it’s unknown how long Jackson would have stayed with the Lakers. He has "retired" under more than occasion, and would be the oldest coach in the league.
D’Antoni is still seeking his first title, and a chance to leave a legacy in the NBA. He will finish out his contract with the Lakers, unless he’s fired before it ends.
With Dwight Howard set to test the free agent market in the summer, it’s important for the Lakers to have stability at head coach. If Jackson decided to leave in 2013, that could force Howard to sign with a team that has an established coach. Los Angeles traded a lot of talent for Howard, and is trying to make sure the center stays in L.A. for years to come.
D’Antoni conducted his first practice with the Lakers on Thursday. He takes over a team that is 3-5 in the 2012-2013 season.