November 14, 2012

TOLEDO | A Mike for a Mike

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It’s been an eventful past week for the Los Angeles Lakers. Scratch that, it’s actually been an overly dramatic past week for the Los Angeles Lakers — almost on par with all the craziness that was the interactions between the Jersey Shore cast, which of course involved really intelligent and well-formulated arguments over topics relevant to society and the state of the world.

Exaggerations aside, the past week for the Lakers has involved calls for Mike Brown’s firing; Lakers owner Jim Buss saying Brown was safe; Brown being fired after a 1-4 start; fans calling for Phil Jackson; interviews and meetings for new coaches; Phil Jackson being told he would have until the end of the weekend; then surprise surprise Mike D’Antoni being hired — all while the Lakers won their next two games in the midst of all this chaos.

If there’s one thing that was made clear, it’s that Lakers fans chanting, “We want Phil” went ignored by the team’s front office. Jim Buss made the executive decision to hire Mike D’Antoni — a head coach with a great amount of clout — but when you weigh D’Antoni next to Phil Jackson, there’s absolutely no comparison, the guy doesn’t measure up to 11 NBA Championships. So, why hire D’Antoni? Was this merely a case of Jackson asking for too much? Did Jim Buss not want to put back a tremendous amount of power and influence in the hands of Phil Jackson?

Beyond the political reasons why I think Phil Jackson was not hired, I think it’s obvious that the Lakers personnel is not quite suited to work in the triangle offense that Jackson would undoubtedly run. Steve Nash is far too skilled a point guard and facilitator to be severely underutilized in the triangle. Derek Fisher was a great piece of the triangle puzzle, but the Lakers just wouldn’t get Nash’s full potential if he was in the triangle.

This seems a likely reason, but when you dig deeper into the power dynamic within the Lakers leadership, it is clear that with Dr. Jerry Buss’s ailing health leading him to pass the reigns to his son Jim, the younger Buss, wants to start fresh and establish himself as the owner of the Lakers. Phil Jackson was a centerpiece of the Jerry Buss Lakers empire, coaching the team to 5 NBA Championships as a perennial powerhouse, so it seems likely that Jim Buss does not want to live forever in his father’s shadow by bringing back a coach who is nothing but reminiscent of a past era in Lakers history.

Furthermore, how can Jim Buss properly assert his power within the Lakers clubhouse if he brings back a guy who would not only dwarf him physically, but also have the influence to effectively usurp Buss’s power and to have significant say in major Lakers decisions. It’s clear that Jim Buss wants to move on from that era and establish his own presence and assert his own power.

All that being said, though, was Mike D’Antoni really the right guy to inherit the position of head coach for the Los Angeles Lakers.

D’Antoni may not be Phil Jackson, but he certainly has a great amount of clout for his ability to put up nearly ridiculous offensive numbers in his “Seven Seconds or Less” offensive scheme. You know Steve Nash is happy about this prospect of being reunited with D’Antoni. D’Antoni’s offensive scheme is very heavily point guard oriented, with that person being the “field general” directing his teammates on offense and facilitating the floor. With Nash in Phoenix, his offense was always Top-5 in points per game.

You have to think that guys like Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard would excel in the D’Antoni pick and roll scheme with Steve Nash. Take Gasol, a 7-foot power forward who can shoot from just about anywhere on the floor, including from three point range, with good footwork and a passing ability to boot. If Dwight Howard can get back to his peak physical shape, and improve his footwork down low in the blocks, he would also be a great roll man with Nash, and you know that D’Antoni is the kind of coach who can definitely facilitate that improvement.

D’Antoni is not free of the criticism that surrounds a guy with a strategy like his, and that is that his teams historically do not play very much defense. While he was able to improve the Suns and turn them into a contender in the West, his teams there did not have any hardware to show for it, and his lack of defense was most exposed in New York when the coached the Knicks to mediocre records. You have to believe though, that with defensive-oriented players like Metta World Peace and Dwight Howard (4 NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards between the two of them), as well as a traditionally offensive minded super star in Kobe Bryant who actually takes a tremendous amount of pride in his ability to defend superbly (12 times recognized on the NBA All-Defensive team, nine times on the first team), that D’Antoni’s defensive short comings will be evened out by more than competent defensive rocks in his lineup.

Probably the biggest question mark in the D’Antoni hiring is what is going to be Kobe Bryant’s role in D’Antoni’s system? In his offense, the two guard traditionally runs to the corner, and stays there so that if his defender is forced to help inside after a pick and roll or penetration, the player inside can pass to the open corner shooter for the three point shot. A player as dynamic as a Kobe Bryant is not going to be content sitting in the corner waiting for a pass that may never come. Kobe may not be a facilitator, but he’s also not a stationary shooter.

There undoubtedly are numerous unanswered questions about how this whole situation is all going to fold out. Who knows if trading one Mike for another Mike was really the best decision to make, but one thing is certain, Mike Brown had to go, the man was dwarfed by not only the situation he was in, but also by the people he was around.

This Lakers fan does not know what’s next, but he has his fingers crossed.

Original Author: Juan Carlos Toledo