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Surprise Surprise Mike D’Antoni

November 13th, 2012

Surprise Surprise. Mike D’Antoni is in LA and the Zen Master is still retired. Steve Nash gets to play for the coach who made him a Hall of Famer while Kobe Bryant gets to play for the guy he cheered for growing up in Italy.
The Lakers fan base clearly wanted Phil Jackson, for obvious reasons. Based on his comments, Phil Jackson clearly wanted the job. The basketball public seems to be on the side of the Lakers fan base in having preferred Phil Jackson. As far as the basketball intelligentsia there seems to be a couple schools of thought.

First you have the Stephen A. Smith School of Thought which is shared by the majority of the talking heads. Stephan A. (and many others) believes the Lakers made a mistake. The conventional wisdom here is that the Lakers real issue is on the defensive end. They make a very compelling case that Mike D’Antoni, even with all his success with the Phoenix Suns, simply can’t coach defense. The fact that D’Antoni has never coached a team that’s finished above 20th in team defense helps support this opinion. The comeback to those who believe D’Antoni isn’t the right guy was laid out pretty smartly by Bill Simmons, The Sports Guy.

According to the newest ESPN NBA Analyst D’Antoni was the logical choice for the job. The thinking here is that Phil Jackson had checked out two years ago and clearly was not a good choice for the long term. According to Simmons the hiring makes sense due to the fact it reunites D’Antoni with Nash. If you’re going to go out and get Steve Nash why not adopt the system that made him a two –time MVP? I tend to agree with Simmons in that Phil Jackson, at this point in his life isn’t the right choice. Legend or not the NBA season is a long haul and you need a coach there day in and day out. D’Antoni also makes sense in the fact he can probably mesh pretty quickly with the Lakers veteran group and it shouldn’t take as long to incorporate his style—compared to the learning curve Jackson’s.

The big winner here is Steve Nash. One wonders how Nash would have fit in triangle. For all the great teams Jackson had over the years there were very few cases where a point guard played a large role in the offense– especially one who likes the ball in his hand as much as Nash does. Nash and D’Antoni clearly have a heck of a successful track record and the presence of Nash should make the transition to D’Antoni go smoothly. Like in Phoenix with Amare Stoudemire, Dwight Howard could be deadly in the pick and roll with Nash.

On the contrary, you have to wonder about the future of Pau Gasol in LA. The successful D’Antoni teams in Phoenix typically employed more of a non-traditional small forward– think Boris Diaw and Shawn Marion— with Amare Stoudemire as the de facto center. This allowed Nash a lot of room on the baseline to move with the basketball and spacing to run pick and rolls with Stoudemire. The combination of Gasol and Dwight Howard inside doesn’t leave a ton of room to freelance. It may make sense to try to move Gasol for a quicker player who can hit the three when Nash and Kobe decide to kick it out. The big story with D’Antoni’s system may be whether or not Gasol fits.

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