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The Lakers Accidentally Get It Right

14 Nov

November 14, 2012

The Los Angeles Lakers boast one of the most prestigious resumes in National Basketball Association history. Over the course of their history with the league in Los Angeles and in Minneapolis where the team started, the Lakers have won 16 championships to date, the last one in 2010. They are perennial title contenders and seem to always recycle talent instead of having to go through the process of rebuilding. As of late though, the Lakers have had a string of poor personnel decisions that have ruined their chances for contention for a NBA championship. It started with the addition of slower, and less athletic players like Steve Blake, and ended with the hiring of Mike Brown, possibly the worst coaching fit for the team. The Lakers have mired in the middle of the playoff pack for the last two years, and have been fodder for the better teams in the West like San Antonio and Oklahoma City in the playoffs. After one full season with the Lake Show and a record of 1-4 after the first five games of a second season, head coach Mike Brown was fired. This should have launched LA into a tailspin. No team that has started 1-4 has ever won a NBA championship. No team with an interim coach has ever won an NBA championship. But then, news broke that Phil Jackson was the front-runner for the head coach position and the Los Angeles community was revitalized. Barring poor contract negotiations, Jackson could feasibly walk into the position, tweak and install his beloved triangle offense, and win the franchise’s 17th title and his 12th ring as a coach. Within a day of negotiation talks, the Los Angeles Lakers hired Mike D’Antoni as their new head coach to the surprise and chagrin of both Lakers’ fans and Jackson himself. It was the best personnel move that they could have made. D’Antoni is a better coach than Mike Brown, a better fit for the Lakers than Phil Jackson, and therefore the best candidate for the head coach job.

Mike D’Antoni is a better coach than Mike Brown at this point in his career. Though Brown has shown promise as a coach of an NBA franchise with his assistant work in San Antonio, his vast accomplishments as a head coach in Cleveland, and the marginal success of this last stint atop the Lakers organization, he has shown some limitations too. Brown preached defense above all other parts of the game, and that was ultimately his demise. He tried to turn an older, athletically mediocre team into the defensive stalwart that his Cleveland Cavaliers teams were. But, great defensive teams have to have good athleticism. D’Antoni is not considered a great defensive coach, but the old adage about defense winning championships is a farce. Though a stout defense is necessary to contend for a title, all championship teams have great offensive players and good offensive strategies. D’Antoni’s pick and roll offense won European championships, and revolutionized and returned NBA offenses to their roots. Where Mike Brown attempted to corale the Lakers’ talent and focus them on the defensive end of the floor, D’Antoni will let them loose on offense and funnel everyone into the 3-time Defensive Player of the Year on the other end. Brown who’s style of coaching was regimented and workman-like was respected in the Midwest town of Cleveland, but he never fit in Los Angeles. Coach D’Antoni’s teams have been flashy and high scoring which should resonate with the Lakers’ fans in victory or defeat. D’Antoni has a better understanding of how to use his talent than Mike Brown and a more culpable style for the fans. He has more experience at this point, and he is a better selection for the head coach of the Lakers than Mike Brown.

But, Phil Jackson was also a candidate for the position with LA. How could the Lakers hire a man who has never won a championship at the highest level of basketball over an 11-time NBA champion, who coincidentally won 5 of his rings in their city with their organization? The Lakers can do this because Mike D’Antoni is actually a better candidate for the job than even the Zen master, Phil Jackson. Phil brings a calmness and the triangle offense that has been so effective for Kobe Bryant. However, that triangle offense would alienate Nash from the offense just as it exiled possible Hall of Fame point guard Gary Payton from it, and limit the effectiveness of Dwight Howard in the paint. It would turn the team’s best ball handler and facilitator (Nash) into a spot-up shooter, and since Dwight Howard can be turnover prone, he will likely be exponentially worse than his predecessor (Shaquille O’Neal) at passing out of double teams in the set post plays for Jackson’s triangle offense. Phil’s offense could be a disaster in Los Angeles. Plus, Phil Jackson has health concerns that could cause him to miss games during the season. Reportedly, Phil was pushing for a clause in his contract that allowed him to miss some road games during long stretches in the regular season. D’Antoni, has no health problems and he only needs a penetrating point guard and a good big man in order for his offense to be effective. With the Lakers, he has one of the best distributors of all time in Steve Nash, and the most athletic big man in the game, Dwight Howard. Nash won two NBA MVP’s under D’Antoni’s tutelage in Phoenix, so he knows the offense and can teach some of the basic principles to the rest of the team. Nash would be running his pick and roll offense with a man who is bigger, stronger, and more athletic than the man whom he had success with under D’Antoni. When you add Kobe Bryant, the second best shooting guard in NBA history and Pau Gasol, the most skilled big man in the league, you have one of the most formidable offenses in the league. Mike D’Antoni has the right attitude to coach in LA. Whereas Phil can be gruff and cryptic, D’Antoni is sunny and personable like the California weather. He brings all of the necessary intangibles to Los Angeles to win quickly.

D’Antoni is the best fit for the Lakers. He has history with Nash. He runs a system that is compatible with the personnel. He will connect with the heart of the city. Against all convention, the Los Angeles got it right by hiring Mike D’Antoni.

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