Lakers choose Mike D'Antoni; how does it effect the Thunder?

Jeff Gross

The Los Angeles Lakers fired their beleaguered head coach Mike Brown, flirted with Phil Jackson, and ultimately went with Steve Nash's former Suns coach, Mike D'Antoni. How does this effect the Thunder?

The Lakers, they who traded for the mother lode in the offseason by acquiring Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to play along side Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Metta World Peace, decided that perhaps a 1-4 start was not becoming of such a star-studded group and promptly fired the guy who was charged with coaching them, Mike Brown. Leaving a Big Dipper-sized vacuum of leadership, the Lakers flirted with 2 time Lakers head coach Phil Jackson but instead went with Nash's former head coach in Phoenix, Mike D'Antoni.

Was the D'Antoni hiring the right move?

To begin with, the Lakers mess really started with the fact that the Brown hiring a year ago was the wrong move. Brown, who could never completely get on the same page as LeBron James in Cleveland, is not known as a strong personality guy. Brown is a defensive coach and a terrible offensive one. Surprisingly though, it was the Lakers' defense that failed them in the playoffs last year and it was poor defense again that got L.A. off to such a miserable start. I do not know why the Lakers settled on Brown a year ago, but it is reasonable to say that if he was the wrong hire before, then it was the right move to fire him now.

Which brings us to D'Antoni, who now is charged with winning a championship, something he has never even come close to doing before. It is really this simple, I think - D'Antoni HAS to win a championship with THIS team in THIS season because if he fails to do so, he may not get another chance with a team that is aging by the minute.

Factor #1: D'Antoni has to do something that he has never done before with a team he has never coached, and he gets less than a full season (and no off-season) in which to do it.

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Next, Brown was hired as a guy to heal the Lakers' defensive blues. D'Antoni is the polar opposite of Brown. D'Antoni was hired as the head coach of the Phoenix suns a year before Steve Nash arrived, and the pair immediately formed a tight player-coach bond that effected the entire team's trajectory. It was pure offensive joy to watch this "7 seconds or less" team revolutionize the way teams played offense. D'Antoni became a hot commodity despite never breaking though to the NBA Finals, and after a falling out in Phoenix, he resumed his coaching career in New York. In NYC, where his former big man Amare Stoudemire was joined by fellow All-Star Carmelo Anthony, D'Antoni was expected to turn that ship around as well.

The mixture in NY was uneven. The Knicks were assuredly better than they had been in the past, but the missing element was that there was no MVP point guard setting up the talented offensive pieces to score. As a result, the Knicks system was mostly an either/or conundrum and never made it past the 1st round of the playoffs. The team was better defensively than the Suns were, but that had more to do with the arrival of Tyson Chandler than anything else.

Now this offensive-minded coach is in L.A. and he is once again paired with the older but still talented Nash. D'Antoni also has the virtue of acquiring 3-time defensive player of the year Dwight Howard. Will D'Antoni see similar defensive synergy that he had when the Knicks acquired Chandler? Can a front line of Howard, MWP, and Gasol keep Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook out of the lane? What about Chris Paul and Blake Griffin? Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol?

Mike Brown couldn't do it.

Factor #2: If defense is the Lakers' problem, D'Antoni is not the answer.

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Lastly, the Lakers are now a mix of 2 headstrong players (Kobe, Howard), one consummate team guy (Nash), one guy who becomes all the more passive (Gasol) when the headstrong guys are not checked in place, and one Metta World Peace. Here is the problem with this mix.

  1. The super-serious guy is no longer the most talented guy on the team, although he plays like he is.
  2. The guy they need to be serious, especially on the defensive end, once got into a public feud over whether he had the right to be referred to as a comic book superhero.
  3. The guy who is arguably most important to the Lakers' fortunes because of his offensive skills shrinks from the pressure because of how superserious guy #1 is.
  4. Metta World Peace is still Ron Artest.
D'Antoni has never come across as a player-friendly coach. Quite the opposite; D'Antoni has a system that he believes in and seek to adapt players to what he's trying to do. That is the only way we can explain Ray Felton, right? He has never been particularly good at meshing with other head-strong players, which is why the 'Melo experiment always fizzled. And yet D'Antoni is now expected to find common ground with guy #1 and motivate guy #2 while not completely isolating guy #3. And lastly, Ron Artest.

Factor #3: The Lakers may encounter chemistry issues. D'Antoni is not renowned for handling that well.

The truth remains to be seen, but knowing what we know about the both the Lakers and Mike D'Antoni, I don't see how D'Antoni is the right man for the job. In fact, I don't think there is any right man for the job in L.A., because there are only 2 men left in the league who could handle the egos present. One works in Miami (Pat Riley) and the other was just passed over for Mike D'antoni.

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That's my take. What do you think?

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