Things move quickly with the Los Angeles Lakers, who have won their two games since firing Mike Brown, but have already chosen to sign Mike D’Antoni on a four year deal, putting pack on the pressure road of winning now and winning big, while hoping Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard are happy with the new choice.
After all, there’s no way that Bryant didn’t have at least a bit of a say in the decision to sign D’Antoni. He, who was so pro-Phil Jackson, had to agree upon D’Antoni as well or the Lakers would have been in a similar situation to the one they had with Mike Brown. A head coach who doesn’t have enough of respect from the team’s biggest asset, which certainly didn’t help his chances of withering the first month of a new NBA Season.
But D’Antoni is respected enough. He hasn’t got any NBA titles or even NBA finals like Phil Jackson; His time with the Knicks can’t be really called succesful; and he knows one kind of offense, one type of basketball, that needs, more than anything, a point guard or a majority ball handler that loves to pick n’ roll. With Steve Nash currently out with an injury, the responsibility will fall to Kobe Bryant.
Bryant said he wasn’t going to be handling the ball as much this season, but things change. Steve Blake is a point guard on paper, but he’s mostly a guy who hits open shots. While shooting guards in the D’Antoni pick n’ roll while spacing the floor system are not much more than spot shooters, there’s no way in hell that Bryant simply becomes a guy waiting to get a pass out of a double team. Bryant will hold the ball, work the pick n’ rolls and get enough isolation plays on his own, whether D’Antoni calls for them or not.
D’Antoni’s system has never had a truly dominant center. Amare Stoudemire is the kind of big man that works well in this one, but alas, having Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol will have to do. It means a lot of pick n’ rolls for two players who should fit the role, but aren’t that used to being applied in this kind of system. Howard should be the one to benefit the most from this change, but he has to develop something that looks like a mid range jumper to be truly effective in it. Pau Gasol is the other half of that glass – a better passer and shooter, but not as athletic and explosive when rolling to the basket.
The rest of the guys? It’ll be about hitting open shots. Jodie Meeks, Metta World Peace, Steve Blake and Antawn Jamison. Not exactly a run and gun team like D’Antoni would like; much bigger, older and slower than what he would prefer, but this system suits them much better than that thing Mike Brown was trying to sell to everyone.
And then there’s Steve Nash. The key to making this thing work the best. Even when he does come back, it’ll be a must to limit his minutes. It’ll also be a test of just how flexible D’Antoni is, because it won’t be a 1:1 scale to the way he loves to run this offense.
Another issue is the defense, but D’Antoni has other coaches for that. Surprisingly, the Lakers have struggled where they did so well last season, even with the addition of the best defensive player in the NBA, Dwight Howard. D’Antoni teams take a lot of damage, playing with the belief they can outscore anyone. He certainly has the firepower for that, but does his team have the legs for that kind of game?
Why did it fall with Phil Jackson? Money, and Jackson demands. A limit to away games he’d travel to, a huge salary and more control. The Lakers didn’t want to give that up, and surprised D’Antoni himself by picking him for the job. Once again, he’s on a team that wants to win now (just like the Knicks). Unlike New York, not getting it done on his first season might cost him his job.