If you’ve been away from the planet or living under a rock, you know the Los Angeles Lakers made a move after a distressing start and fired their head coach, Mike Brown. Brown had quickly become the spacegoat for the Lakers early struggles, not a not-100% Dwight Howard or an injured Steve Nash who missed all but two of the Lakers first games, or the fact that they were implementing a new offensive system that might prove difficult to learn. You can’t fire the players, but you can fire the coach in the hopes of shaking things up and “saving” the season (I put “saving” in quotes because… we’re only 10% of the way through the regular season) and that’s the move that the Buss family elected to go with.
The leaders to take over for Mike Brown became apparent very quickly and they were both veteran, high-profile coaches. One was Mike D’Antoni, formerly of the up-tempo New York Knicks and the Phoenix Suns, and the other was the the Lakers head coach before Mike Brown– Phil Jackson. The reports throughout the weekend seemed to be that Jackson was the likely choice. However, on Monday morning, the basketball world awoke to be surprised that the Lakers brass has signed Mike D’Antoni to a 3 year, $12 million dollar contract. Jackson was surprised at this turn of events, having met with the Lakers on Saturday and believed, according to ESPN, that he had until Monday to make a decision about the job. However, team president Jim Buss and GM Mitch Kupchak elected to sign the former Suns and Knicks head coach and offensive mastermind, ostensibly because of how D’Antoni’s up-and-down offensive style would match with the pieces currently on the Lakers roster as opposed to Phil Jackson’s triangle offense.
I’m of a couple of minds regarding this move. The first is the mind of someone who does not want the Lakers to succeed. And in that regard, I am very glad that Phil Jackson is not their head coach. Phil won 5 titles while in Los Angeles and made it to two other NBA Finals as well, so he has a pretty good track record with that organization and those players (namely Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol). Bringing Jackson back would have been the easy and expected move and would have likely yielded good results for the team wearing forum blue and gold. For someone who is predisposed to not wanting the Lakers to do well, seeing Jackson back on the Los Angeles bench would have been a most unwelcome sight and thus I was relieved the Lakers went with D’Antoni.
However, I think that D’Antoni is a good coach– maybe not great (though he did reach back-to-back Western Conference Finals with the Phoenix Suns in the mid-2000s) but a good coach– and I think this move to go with him was a strong one. The pieces that are on the Lakers roster, namely Steve Nash, lend themselves to D’Antoni’s “Seven Seconds or Less” up-tempo style. Also, along those lines, while Kobe and Pau are quite adept at performing in Jackson’s triangle offense, Nash and Dwight Howard don’t lend themselves to that offensive system. D’Antoni’s offense emphasizes the pick-and-roll and with Nash (when he returns to the lineup) running that offense and getting the ball to Dwight Howard (easily the most skilled big man D’Antoni has had since Amar’e Stoudemire before his microfracture surgery), it should put up big numbers and make the Lakers offense one of the most formidable in the Western Conference, particularly when you keep in mind that they also have Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Antawn Jamison coming off the bench. Yes, D’Antoni’s teams are generally weak on the defensive end. But the Lakers’ aren’t that far off defensively from the top teams in the Western Conference (from a statistical perspective) and, again, D’Antoni has never had as strong a defensive player as Howard playing for him.
The Lakers still have a ways to go in the Western Conference and I think, even after the change from Brown to D’Antoni, the Spurs, Thunder, Clippers and Grizzlies are all above the Lakers and seem more likely to represent the Western Conference at the end of the season. But I’m also intrigued by this movie and, yes, excited to see what D’Antoni can do with all these pieces. Maybe the Lakers didn’t guarantee themselves a spot in the NBA Finals with their choice to replace the dispatched Mike Brown, but the Mike D’Anonti Lakers will be a force in the Western Conference and a fun team to watch as we see a little bit of Showtime in the Staples Center.