Phil Jackson may be the lord of the rings, but Mike D’Antoni was the right choice all along to be the next head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Now granted the Lakers — who host the Phoenix Suns on Friday night in Staples Center in a game D’Antoni is not expected to coach — really couldn’t have gone wrong so long as they didn’t pick Mike Dunleavy, but I completely agree with Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak when he says, “It revolved almost completely around the personnel that we had on the team and the style of play that we saw going forward for the team.”
Along with all the drama that Jackson and his health bring, the Triangle Offense would come along with him. Although it’s hard to argue with a system that has resulted in 11 championships, none of those teams rostered a point guard even close to, with capable shooters like Derek Fisher and Ron Harper not exactly possessing the playmaking prowess of the former two-time MVP.
I feared such a system would turn Nash into the “hummingbird trapped in a plastic bag” that ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz described Nash as under Terry Porter.
When you are as talented as the Lakers you could potentially win that way anyway. With Kobe and Gasol doing their regular triangle thing and with Dwight in the middle and Nash spacing, this is a championship contender even with the Four Corners offense.
But this just might be something historic offensively with D’Antoni handing the keys to the system back over to the man who made the system (or was it vice versa?).
Since D’Antoni may not be known as the offensive mastermind he is today if not for Nash and since he knows better than anyone how devastating Nash can be in his system, this hiring doubles as a decision in favor of employing Nash the way he was meant to be utilized.
As perhaps the best shooter in the history of the NBA, Nash would surely be effective in any offense as a spot-up option, but he wouldn’t be Steve Nash.
With D’Antoni at the controls, Nash will be unleashed, and that’s a scary thought when considering the fact that he will be joined by the best roll man in the NBA today in Dwight Howard as well as a skilled big man who can play the Boris Diaw role to perfection in the high post in Gasol as well as a fairly decent scorer named Kobe.
Of course, these Lakers won’t run like the Matrix/Amare/Barbosa Suns did alongside Nash, but they will be unstoppable in the half court. Lakers opponents can now be guaranteed a heavy dose of Nash/Howard pick-and-rolls, a play that will take three players to prevent either an open Nash jumper or an easy Howard attempt at the rim.
That means Pau and Kobe are going to find more space to operate and perhaps more easy shots than they’ve ever dreamed of. If the Lakers can find a way to acquire an elite shooter to join their quartet of future Hall-of-Famers (or perhaps use Jodie Meeks in that role), they will be practically unguardable. Even players like Metta World Peace will become more effective shooters as everybody the Suns signed to play next to Nash eventually became in this system.
The Suns led the NBA in offensive efficiency all four years with Nash and D’Antoni, and as talented as those Phoenix teams were, they never surrounded Nash with all-time greats like Howard and Kobe as well as Gasol as perhaps the best fourth option in league history.
The two biggest knocks on D’Antoni center around his lack of defensive coaching chops and the way he runs his players into the ground by playing them too many minutes.
I’ve always felt he got a worse rap than deserved on the defensive end because of the Suns’ blazing fast pace. The points per game numbers looked uglier than they really were because the Suns played one of the fastest paces in the league, but the team ranked 20th, 19th, 16th and 17th in defensive efficiency during the SSOL years.
Of course, that means the Suns were below average at the defensive end, but they weren’t as hideous as people always seemed to think, especially considering the way the defense often fed the offense by leading to fast-break opportunities.
The Lakers’ star-studded starting lineup and anemic bench seems to be a poor match for a coach that needs little impetus to shorten his rotation. If D’Antoni is smart, he’ll ease up on the gas with his vets during the regular season before pushing them in the playoffs.
Finally, the biggest Suns-related question surrounding Nash and D’Antoni’s reunion in LA concerns whether a Lakers title would validate the SSOL era by proving that style can bring home the hardware.
Personally I don’t feel it needs to be validated. The Suns were in the championship mix for five of six years but just suffered so much bad luck from the Horry hip check to Joe Johnson’s broken face that they never reached their ultimate goal.
I feel like what the style accomplished speaks for itself and that it should always be lauded in history for how it brought back the fun in the NBA and won oh so many games.
In some ways it’s already validation of that style that the Lakers decided it gives their team a better chance to win with their current roster than the tried-and-true Triangle offense that Phil Jackson has deployed on his way to 11 rings.
Those Suns teams suffered tough luck and just never were able to get over the hump and thus they will forever be known as one of the best teams never to win a title.
It will likely make some Phoenix fans sick to watch Nash running D’Antoni’s offense to perfection with an All-Star crew of teammates in Tinseltown, but the Suns fans still rooting for Nash must feel good for him being reunited with the coach whose system helped turn him into a two-time MVP for one more run on his terms at the title that has so long eluded him.
- Amin Elhassan, a Suns executive during part of the SSOL era, analyzed why D’Antoni is a good fit for ESPN.com: “D’Antoni’s system should work because, unlike former coach Mike Brown’s Princeton offense, the players will believe in it. The players will believe in it because there is a familiarity; obviously, Nash was the maestro who ran it to perfection when he and D’Antoni were with the Suns, and Bryant and Howard have both been exposed to it as a part of Team USA (additionally, Bryant was coached by D’Antoni at the 2007 All-Star Game and spent time as a boy watching his dad, Joe Bryant and D’Antoni play together in Italy). Gasol is the type of savant who could work wonders within the context of the offense, much in the same way Boris Diaw did while playing for D’Antoni. Even reserve forward Jordan Hill got to run it in New York. The familiarity for some of the players will help bring the other players along.”
- Fox Sports Arizona’s Randy Hill spoke to a scout about how he expects the Lakers to play under D’Antoni: ”Kobe is more versatile, smarter and has a far superior will to win. The Lakers can run ball screen with Nash and down screen for Kobe on the weak side. Where do you load up on defense when that happens? He doesn’t have to try and play the exact same way the Suns played in Phoenix. All that matters is finding easy ways to score. They don’t have the floor spacers he had in Phoenix, but expect to see Nash working the middle and looking to get everyone involved. Their biggest adjustment will be learning to move as the ball moves.”
- ESPN’s John Hollinger on what D’Antoni accomplished in Phoenix: “As for D’Antoni, he never quite got his due for what he accomplished in Phoenix, implementing a system with Nash that basically shocked the league for a few years while everyone figured out how to guard it (and eventually copy it). D’Antoni effectively provided the blueprint for how teams could space the floor and take advantage of the mid-decade hand-checking rules, and he still does it better than anyone else. Somehow, the narrative on this accomplishment turned from ‘he completely knocked the league on its [butt]‘ to ‘he took a 29-win team and prevented it from winning a championship.’ What D’Antoni did in Phoenix was historic.”
- Nash on the hiring, via USA Today: “I never would’ve predicted him being here as we get a chance to work together again, especially here with this team. I’m thrilled, but definitely shocked as well. I didn’t see it coming. Everything has happened so fast.”