The Shot Clock Is Ticking
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
A key part of D'Antoni's success as head coach of the Lakers will be meshing his gameplan to Kobe Bryant.
The difference between Mike D’Antoni and Mike Brown is like the difference between night and day.
One knows offense. One knows defense.
On the whole they both have had similar career arcs—some regular-season dominance, complemented with some playoff success.
Neither Mike belongs on the Mount Rushmore of Coaches like Red Auerbach, Pat Riley, Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich, but their credentials stack up with nearly anyone else you can mention.
And that is makes this recent Laker hiring/firing all the more intriguing.
Can D’Antoni get through to the Los Angeles Lakers in a way that Brown could not?
Are the Lakers merely running an Open Mike night? If the veteran Lakers struggle adopting D’Antoni’s “Seven Seconds Or Less” philosophy of getting shots up quickly, will the chants of “We Want Phil” begin again and again?
There are a lot of questions that remain.
The biggest question now is, Have the Lakers lost the patience it takes for great teams to develop?
I mean, seriously. Rome was not built in a day, but Laker fans would have expected Kobe Caesar and Pau Augustus to build that empire in a two-game home stand, if they had their way.
If D’Antoni struggles in November and December—which is par for the course for any coach joining a team mid-stream—will Laker ownership put up with it?
Forgive the cynicism here, but the Lakers have illustrated a lack of patience in the aftermath in the comings-and-goings of Phil Jackson.
Rudy Tomjanovich had to go after 43 games in 2003-04. Brown had to go with only 71 regular season games under his belt over two seasons.
I’m not saying D’Antoni isn’t a good hire for the future.
But will he be fired for underachieving in 43 games? Or 71 games?
I remember the 1990-91 Chicago Bulls struggling to learn the triangle under new head coach Phil Jackson and architect assistant Tex Winters. The Bulls lost their first three games that season and went 12-8 in November 1990, with superstar Michael Jordan complaining about the offense the whole time.
It wasn’t until six months later, when Jordan’s Bulls overcame the Detroit Pistons (4 games to 0)—playing Jordan Rules defense—and the Lakers (4 games to 1) en route to the 1991 NBA championship that Phil was recognized as a great head coach.
So let's say the Lakers go 12-8 in games leading up to the Christmas reunion game with the Knicks and D’Antoni—giving L.A. an overall 15-12 record—will Laker fans turn naughty or nice on the new head coach.
You know Jackson will have fun tweaking his former organization the whole holiday season—as if he is re-gifting fruitcakes—especially after Lakers management woke him up in the Sunday midnight hours to announce it had pulled its job offer.
Yes, Phil will be certain to exploit any Laker struggles on the way, I am sure.
It’ll definitely be interesting to see what transpires in the coming weeks, as we gear up for another season of the NBA’s Most Interesting Team.
And that’s not to say I don’t think it eventually will work.
I do think D’Antoni is a good fit.
But just like I thought Brown would struggle in the beginning with a new offense this season, so too will D’Antoni.
Anybody who follows NBA basketball, already know it’s a given.
D’Antoni had great success with the Phoenix Suns of the 2000s, but in his first of five years with the organization, he went 21-40 joining the Suns mid-stream, replacing Frank Johnson as head coach.
That occurred with a talented team that featured Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and Joe Johnson, along with point guards Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway, who both battled injuries that 2003-04 season.
But one year later—after shipping out Marbury and Hardaway, while importing Steve Nash to run the show—D’Antoni’s fast-break, free-flowing offense took the Suns to a historic level. Four of the 10 greatest offenses in NBA history were coached by D’Antoni, with Nash serving as his quarterback on these teams (note: a fifth Nash-led Suns squad ranks 11th on the all-time charts in 2008-09, but D’Antoni was coaching New York at that time).
That said, I expect D'Antoni will struggle with this Lakers team in the beginning—just like he did in Phoenix—but will have them playing great basketball by the new year.
At the very least--in due time--I would expect old Nash, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard to match the offensive output of young Nash, Johnson, Marion and Stoudemire in their heyday.
When dealing with good NBA players, D’Antoni has proven to be fairly consistent in producing a Top 5 offense complemented by a mediocre defense.
Mind you, mediocre isn’t bad.
When D’Antoni’s Suns teams were winning between 54 and 62 games in the 2004-05 through 2007-08 seasons, Phoenix always ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in offensive efficiency, while its defense rated somewhere between No. 13 and No. 17.
He got out of the first round in three of those seasons and reached the Western Conference Finals twice.
With New York’s four teams from 2008-09 through part of 2011-12, D’Antoni had lesser talent to work with, but still generated improving offensive numbers on the whole--with mediocre defensive numbers on the side. Last season, the Lakers—led by Bryant, Gasol and Andrew Bynum—ranked 10th and 13th in offensive and defensive efficiency.
I would expect, in time, that offensive number to rise near the top, while that defensive rating will remain relatively stable.
Will the Lakers be good enough to win the West? Will they be good enough to defeat the Miami Heat in the 2013 NBA Finals?
I don't think so.
But if they remain patient and stick with a good coach for awhile, the Lakers can build on a very good team that definitely has championship potential.
After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the Lakers have to manage expectations.
Expecting a championship with only 158 days together--before the playoffs begin--is just not realistic.