By Dennis Berry
It was a roller coaster weekend for the Los Angeles Lakers.
The ride started Friday morning when the team announced that Mike Brown would no longer be the head coach. Then late Sunday night there was an announcement that Mike D’Antoni would be the next head coach.
In between that was followed by wins at home against the Golden State Warriors and the Sacramento Kings. During those wins fans chanted their desire that Phil Jackson return as head coach. It was reported that Jackson met with the team and was on the verge of rejoining the team he led to five NBA titles.
Before looking at the Lakers' hiring of D’Antoni, one has to look back at the firing of Brown. It came five games into the season and a 1-4 start. Most of the attention was focused on the implication of the Princeton offense this year. Many looked at this as limiting the players on the court.
But as we pointed out last week, the Lakers' struggles went beyond the offense. The reason that the offense looked bad was because the players never got used to playing in it. Brown never had the full roster to practice it in the preseason.
Dwight Howard was out much of the offseason recovering from back surgery. Kobe Bryant missed time in the preseason because of a foot injury. Steve Nash has also been out since the second game of the year because of a leg injury.
The players never had a chance to gel as a team. Because of that, Brown never had a chance to succeed with this group. The last image will be the Kobe Bryant death stare to Brown in his last game as the Lakers' head coach.
It was ridiculous that the Lakers fired Brown after only five games. He should have been given more time to work with a full roster. The Lakers organization knows that because of the age of this group of stars, that time is not on their side. They felt the need to make a change.
So after Brown was fired, Phil Jackson went to the top of the Lakers' fan's wish list. It appeared to be his job to turn down. The Lakers and Jackson met over the weekend and it seemed he would return to Los Angeles.
Then Monday morning many basketball fans woke up to the surprising hire of Mike D’Antoni as coach. While D’Antoni was one of the coaches that was mentioned, it always seemed like a long shot with Jackson out there.
D’Antoni made his name as a coach in Phoenix with Steve Nash. He was the coach when Phoenix made it to the Western Conference Finals in 2005 and 2006. Those two years Nash also won the MVP award.
With Nash at the controls of D’Antoni offense, the Suns became the best offense in the NBA. They were constantly running when they had the chance. The Suns were the highest scoring team in the league. Nash had complete control using pick and rolls to get into the lane and create for his teammates.
The Lakers are hoping that D’Antoni can recreate that high powered offense in L.A. The pieces are there to do so. Installing the offense should be easy.
Nash will once again have the ball in his hands more. One complaint that many had concerning the Princeton offense was taking the ball out of Nash’s hands. Nash and Gasol should make a great pick 'n' roll duo when he returns.
Bryant will still be the main scorer. He should find himself with more isolation scoring opportunities as well. The only question will be how he handles Nash controlling the ball the majority of the time. Bryant and D’Antoni are familiar with each from the USA basketball team.
Another concern will be Dwight Howard. How will he fit into this offense? He is more of a low post scorer, but D’Antoni likes to spread the floor and keep the post open for drives. Will Howard be able to fit in? Remember...the Shaquille O’Neal experiment in Phoenix did not exactly work out. O'Neal, who did his work in the post, never seemed to fit in D'Antoni system the 28 games he played in it.
One thing we learned with the hiring of D’Antoni is that the Lakers are not interested in improving their defense. D’Antoni’s teams are notorious for not playing defense, which is something this year’s version of the Lakers does not do anyway. So the Lakers will just try to outscore their opponents the rest of the season.
The interesting thing to watch will be how Lakers’ fans take to D’Antoni. They let it be known they wanted Jackson to come back to L.A. Will they accept D’Antoni? How will they react if the team struggles and goes on another losing streak?
In the end, this hiring does little to improve the Lakers' chances of winning the NBA title this year. They will probably get beat in the second round of playoffs by the Spurs or Thunder. At least they will be more exciting on offense.