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Mike D'Antoni's legacy may not reside in Phoenix and that's OK

Mike D’Antoni has left two blazed trails during his time in the NBA.

The former Phoenix Suns coach first changed the way the pro game was played. Then he left messes in the two biggest media markets in the league.

D’Antoni decided late Wednesday night that he’d had enough of Los Angeles. He stepped down as the Lakers coach with the team deciding not to pick up his contract option to return after the 2014-15 season. It’s the third time D’Antoni has left relatively on his own terms, and based on what we know about the evolving resumes of NBA head coaches, the proud former Suns coach who brought the Seven Seconds or Less offensive to the Valley faces an unknown future.

Based on the past, we all know he doesn’t regret a thing.


The way D’Antoni left a troubled Lakers franchise was seemingly similar to when he mutually agreed with Knicks owner James Dolan to depart from the Knicks. And it feels much less messy than the time he left the Suns, at least considering reports indicated it was over a spoiled relationship with then-general manager Steve Kerr.

When D’Antoni visited Phoenix with the Lakers and Steve Nash in January of 2013, he refused to admit that the how of leaving the Suns bothered him. There was more regret in how his time with the Suns went so quickly.

“I don’t know about the departure,” he said. “I just think the whole thing, just enjoy it more, appreciate it more and maybe to be a little bit more aware of how good it was. It was pretty good.”

Over the course of four-plus seasons in Phoenix, D’Antoni won 65 percent of his regular-season games and finished with a record of 253-136. Elsewhere in his NBA career — a stint with Denver, his first coaching job, and then with the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers following his time in Phoenix — D’Antoni went 202-290 for a winning percentage of 41 percent. The disparity in his success in Phoenix and elsewhere becomes more apparent in the postseason. D’Antoni went 26-25 in the playoffs with the Suns and 0-8 in two playoff appearances with New York and Los Angeles.

Context makes one thing clear: D’Antoni had it good with the Suns and quite bad with big-pocketed franchises who didn’t know how to spend their money in the right ways.

“It’s a phase in your career or life where it was almost perfect,” D’Antoni said of the Suns. “We had great guys, great management … the fans were great, great weather. Everything, there’s nothing you could ask for four years that was better than that.”

D’Antoni remains widely-respected, a national team assistant coach whose philosophies have changed the way some of the best coaches in the world think. Look no further than Mike Krzyzewski’s offense at Duke and you’ll know that D’Antoni’s impact on the game goes beyond the NBA.

So now we discuss the obvious.

D’Antoni, who is 62, has failed to adapt in his last two gigs. He’s rubbed a lot of people — Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman were the latest — the wrong way. Managing characters is important, and other than in Phoenix, D’Antoni hasn’t done it well. Conforming to personnel is another thing that hasn’t helped the former Suns coach’s credibility. Again, not all of that is on him.

He’s stubborn, maybe.

In the national perspective, after he’s blazed through New York and LA, will D’Antoni’s legacy be even close to what it might be in Phoenix?

Answer how you will. We know how D’Antoni, a guy not afraid to laugh at himself or reflect on the past, would answer.

“Sometimes you have a bunch of guys that, you think everywhere should be like this, you take for granted how they clicked and how good it was, how much fun it was to watch them every day,” he said last January. “You kind of take it for granted. You chase a championship … and sometimes you should take care of it a little bit better.”

  • Ellensburgbballfan

    I am not a fan of his no defense all offense kind of coaching, but i think he is a good coach, his free wheeling take-the-shot-if-your-open approach creates confidence for players,

    and he sure seems to have success with point guards,

    heck he turned Kendall Marshall into a very productive one, a task i thought was very unlikely given how his rookie year in phoenix went.

    it would be nice to see him back in the organization at some capacity.

    At any rate, where ever he coaches next cant be any worse than what happened with the Lakers

  • Luka

    D’Antoni ruined Amare’s and now Kobe’s careers letting them play far more minutes then they should’ve. I won’t miss the 7 man rotations, the lack of player development. We had a great team but D’Antoni had a hand in sabotaging the Suns future.

  • hawki

    Domino’s Pizza is hiring…

  • DBreezy

    Remember when D’Antoni and Avery Johnson where hot commodities and Rick Carlisle was booted out of Detroit and Indiana for his inability to work with players? It’s probably not fair situationally what happened to him in NY and LA, but it is what it is. The La job in particular, other high profile people not named Phil wanted no part of. Just like NY over CHI, he probably would have been better off waiting for a young team with promise that he could have molded. The Wolves might have been a good fit for example.

    Now he’s kind of screwed in a world where the guys with any kind of profile aren’t en vogue anymore. Everyone wants the next Hornacek, Vogel, Brooks, etc on cheap deals instead of the Karl, D’Antoni, Hollins, Van Gundy, Johnson types. Even high profile places like NY are looking at guys like Kerr and it seems like the Lakers will do the same. Mike is probably best doing a TV gig like the others while keeping his Team USA gig and hope it builds him a profile for a job down the line.

  • EBJM

    D’Antoni has always been highly over-rated. He never was able to coach the players he was given on his respective teams. The G.M.s always had to try and acquire players that could play in D’Antoni’s “system”.

    In Phoenix he was extremely lucky to have been in the right place at the right time. Frank Johnson was able to get a Marbury led team into the playoffs but the following year the wheels fell off. B.C. decided to go in a different direction and was able to dump Marbury, Hardaway and Gugliotta and build around Marion, Amare and J.J.

    D’antoni’s success is a direct result of Mark Cuban not wanting to give Steve Nash the contract he desired. If Cuban kept Nash, D’Antoni would have failed just as quickly as he did in Denver.

    In Denver he had a young Chauncey Billups, a future Finals MVP and five-time All-Star and a young Antonio McDyess who was named to the All-NBA 3rd team the year D’Antoni coached the Nuggets.

    The irony of his firing from the Nuggets is that his G.M. was Dan Issel who played for the Doug Moe coached and original we will score more points than you Nugget teams.

    Kendall Marshall is still a joke. He will follow in the footsteps of Raymond Felton and Jeremy Lin.

  • EBJM

    DBreezy my best educated guess and early money will go on Kevin Ollie getting the Lakers job. He seems to be the next guy in that line of new coaches you mentioned.

  • vtsunrise

    The D’Antoni-Nash marriage was made in heaven. It brought out the best in both of them and everyone else.

    Moments like that are golden. Nothing either of them would ever experience in their careers could equal those glory days.

    We were fortunate to witness it. It didn’t end up with championship rings, but not everything can or needs to be measured in gold.

  • vtsunrise

    What do people here think of Kerr as Knicks coach under Uncle Phil?

  • EBJM

    Another test for Adam Silver coming up. In the Pacers game 6, George Hill and Mike Scott got into a minor altercation right in front of the Pacer’s bench.

    Paul George and a 2nd Pacer that I could not identify both came off the Pacer bench and clearly stepped onto the court.

    Remember game 4 in ’07 against the Spurs? Here are some comments from that incident:

    “The rule, strictly enforced in the past, is aimed at preventing a fight from escalating into a full-scale brawl”

    “But he (David Stern) also predicted there wouldn’t be a repeat of this in the playoffs because of the punishment Stoudemire and Diaw received”.

    Stu Jackson’s reply to why Tim Duncan wasn’t suspended for leaving the bench and stepping onto the court after the Spur’s Franciso Elson dunked and landed on the shoulders of the Suns James Jones:

    “Both players got up, “There was no altercation, and they ran down to the other end of the court.”

    Clearly the current incident had a higher chance to escalate into a full-scale brawl because the altercation took place only a couple of feet in front of the Pacer’s bench and specifically Paul George.

    As you recall Nash was body-checked into the scorer’s table a good twenty feet from Amare and Diaw.

    So within the same context of Amare’s and Diaw’s suspensions and using the exact same criteria, Paul George should be suspended for the game seven.

    I can hardly wait to hear the league’s ruling.

  • Foreveris2long

    My two biggest knocks on Antoni have always been his perceived stubbornness and the inability to get his teams to play good defense. Regarding the stubbornness issue, he left the Lakers because they refused to pick up the option on the 2015-2016b season. While I understand his contention he did not want to be a lame duck coach, why quit immediately after the worst season ever, which will be fresh on every GM’s mind? Why not improve on that in 2014/2015 with a healthy Kobe and new pieces? I do not think he will ever get another head coaching job in the NBA.

    As for defense, the Lakers defense was deplorable. I believe they were either last or next to last, giving up about 106 a night. They had one stretch in January where through 11 games they were giving up about 113 points a game.

    I will always say one of the biggest mistakes he made was not thoroughly considering the head job in Chicago after he left the Suns. They had a young team where he could have imposed his will on the franchise. If he could only make teams accountable defensively, he could have been a good coach. I wish him the best.

    VT, I like the possible Kerr hire as a Knicks head coach. In addition to believing he is an excellent student of the game, I think his attention to detail, defensive accountability, good communication skills and vast knowledge of the triangle offense makes him a good candidate in NY. I think good students of the game, who remain humble can become good coaches. I also like former NBA guards because I think they have always analyzed the game more than your bigs. Just a hunch but I think he will do well if hired in NY.

  • Andrew

    @EBJM – I totally agree with you that George should be suspended. If he isnt then the league will clearly show they have double standards.I hope they announce the suspension today.

  • vtsunrise

    Great comments, EBJM and forever.

  • EBJM

    Forever, I understand your point about leaving after the Lakers worst record in L.A. but Kobe said he didn’t want to play for D’Antoni. Pau doesn’t like playing for D’Antoni either.

    D’Antoni is infamous for declaring that it isn’t his job to develop players while he was here in Phoenix. The Lakers figure to have a lot of young players again.

    When the Lakers declined to pick up his option in ’15-’16 D’Antoni’s representatives negotiated a settlement with the Lakers. They agreed to pay him half of the $4 million he had coming to him for next season.

    The biggest reason the Lakers didn’t fire D’Antoni was that they didn’t want to pay two coaches for what they expect to be a rebuilding season while they wait for the free-agents in ’15-’16.

    They figured D’Antoni would be fine in that capacity but obviously it didn’t sit too well with him. So essentially they bought him out, he didn’t actually quit.

  • Foreveris2long

    Thanks VT. EBJM, oh yeah I know there was a buyout but no matter the personnel, I think with a healthy Kobe he had a good chance of having a better record next season than he had last season. So he leaves with less money and a terrible won loss record on his resume. It was widely reported the Lakers wanted to offer their lottery pick for either Kevin love or K. Irving as they wanted to field a good team with Kobe during his last 2 seasons.

    Obviously I have no idea what Antoni was thinking but I seriously doubt he ever gets another head job in the NBA.

  • EBJM

    What about Kobe’s public comment, “I have no interest in playing for D’Antoni next season”?

    They are also interested bring Pau back if the price is right and he wouldn’t come back if D’Antoni is still coach. In fact he would probably sign a veteran’s minimum to play with his brother over another season with D’Antoni.

    Last but not least, and I’m sure you are quite aware of this, D’Antoni was probably the most unpopular coach in Laker history by the time the season ended.

    His hiring was so unpopular among Laker fans, FORBES of all magazines wrote an article on it at the time. The writer is an economist of the sports industry. He actually supported the hiring despite how unpopular the choice of D’Antoni was.

    Here is one paragraph from that article I selected because it reflects you thoughts two years later:

    “However, Mike D’Antoni still has fire in his belly to coach. He’s got something to prove. And he can shore up, if necessary, any defensive deficiencies that have dogged him in the past by hiring an defensive guru as an assistant.”

    Without that option year being picked up, the Lakers, specifically with Kobe coming back would have a huge chemistry issue. The Lakers couldn’t possibly lose more games next season and besides, winning more games but not being a contender would still fall directly at the feet of D’Antoni.

    D’Antoni did the right thing in graciously taking his $2 million and walking away. Third time is a charm.