Welcome to Hollywood, Mr. Pringles
In a plot twist that would have movie executives in Hollywood envious, the Los Angeles Lakers have signed former Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks head coach Mike D'Antoni to a three-year, $12 million deal, according to the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan.
That obviously means that the "Zen Master" Phil Jackson will not make his third trip back to his high chair at Staples Center as Lakers coach. Details are still being solidified, but multiple sources including Marc J. Spears with Yahoo! Sports are reporting Jackson's demands of a $10 million-plus salary, travel restrictions for road games, as well as greater input in personnel decisions were too much for the Buss family.
So, that means the man affectionately (or not) known as "Mr. Pringles" is the newest man in the Lakers coaching hot seat. There will be some resentment surely as most of Southern California and Lakers Nation at large anticipated Jackson's third go-round in Los Angeles.
But the man who's system and style of play helped elevate Steve Nash to a two-time NBA MVP and has been given the proverbial vote of confidence by Kobe Bryant is the new guy to help this win-now Lakers team bring home title number 17.
Except, he's not going to be the man to do it. I don't want to be a wet blanket before the ink is dry on his deal, but D'Antoni's stint in Los Angeles will ultimately bear no championship fruit for hungry Laker fans.
Here are my reasons why.
Nash will quickly discover that World Peace is not the formula for long-range bombing
What made D'Antoni's run in Phoenix special was the ability for Suns management to put versatile shooters around Nash to make their offense so free flowing. Guys like Joe Johnson, Jared Dudley, Leandro Barbosa, Boris Diaw, Tim Thomas and Jason Richardson could knock down jumpers when left open.
The dilemma with this Lakers team is that there simply aren't many of those players in supply. Actually, there really are none. Metta World Piece, Antawn Jamison, Steve Blake and Kobe Bryant are not knock-down shooters. Look at the numbers people: Kobe Bryant is not that kind of shooter. They're all streaky guys.
Speaking of streaky, this deal stands to benefit Jodie Meeks. But that assumes he gets enough time to get into the flow of the game. It's early, but he's been invisible for much of the early season. Nash will find himself likely taking more shots until the roster can be tweaked.
Until then, there will be struggles.
It will be interesting to see what D'Antoni does with his first two-way big man
D'Antoni's teams in Phoenix were nightmarish because they featured a slew of offensive guys that provided unique matchup problems for teams with traditional starting lineups. For example, Shawn Marion often played the power forward spot on the floor and his spreading of the court gave Nash free reign to get inside via dribble penetration.
These teams also frequently put Amar'e Stoudamire at the center spot, where his speed and shooting ability were too much for most of the pivot men in the NBA. But now, the offensive focus is inverted in Los Angeles.
While Nash is the conductor, the heart of this orchestra is inside with Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. The rationale is two fold. One, the Lakers have a size advantage over most teams in the NBA night in and night out.
But two—and this is crucial as the team gets up to speed—the duo is not as fleet as these undersized frontcourt units throughout the league. Los Angeles has been hurt in transition because they are not a fast team (I am getting ahead of myself with that). So it plays to their benefit to get the ball as close to the rim as possible and let their size dictate what they do offensively.
Yes, D'Antoni did make some adjustments to his offense in New York. But that was largely out of necessity. I have to wonder if with Nash back in the fold, he won't be tempted to revert to the run-and-gun ways that made him a good coach in the first place. If he does, that's trouble for this team. It benefits other teams to quicken the pace and take advantage of the older Lakers, not vice versa.
Just ask the Denver Nuggets, who almost used that strategy to oust Los Angeles from the playoffs last year.
Guards like Chris Paul have killed the Lakers in recent years
This is a variation on reason number four: the Lakers just don't have the team speed to play at fast tempo.
Therefore, I'm not sure what tweaks D'Antoni can make; this roster is not built to go up and down the court for 48 minutes. Sporadically, yes. But I can't see this unit running and gunning for four quarters successfully.
The biggest reason for that is quick, fast guards have killed the Lakers in transition over the last two-plus years. Do you remember this? Or how about this? It's been a theme since the last title run in 2010: The Lakers have to be efficient on offense or they risk getting eaten up in transition on defense.
Which makes this signing all the more curious. I just don't know what Mike D'Antoni's track record is like when his team isn't getting up and down the floor at a breakneck pace with the requisite pieces.
Wait...yes I do.
Blake is no Leandro Barbosa, let alone Steve Nash
Most of my issues with D'Antoni's style of play focus on the starting five, which is a talented but plodding unit. That's even with Steve Nash running point. Now, let's move to the bench.
Actually, running stands to benefit guys like Jordan Hill, Jodie Meeks and to a lesser degree, Antawn Jamison. But who's running this offense? So far, Darius Morris has been the best point guard on the Lakers roster. I have serious reservations that Morris could take D'Antoni's system and go with it.
Without the head, this offense is like a fangless snake: It looks dangerous until you realize there's no bite to it. Unless someone like Morris or Chris Duhon could emerge with their quickness to at least force tempo, I can't see the Lakers second unit benefiting from this move either. To be fair, there is much more margin for error with this style of play against reserves.
But without someone who create his own shot (ala Barbosa), there will be similar stretches of ugly play from a reserve unit that has been one of the league's worst over the last two years.
Dwight's defensive prowess is likely to be tested like never before
And guess what, without Steve Nash to outscore teams on a regular basis, D'Antoni was a very mediocre 121-167 with the Knicks. You add his 1999 lockout-shortened season with the Denver Nuggets and his career record is 135-203 without Steve Nash.
Okay, it's simple then right? The Lakers HAVE Steve Nash, so no problem. Well, they have Nash, but they don't have the same guys next to him. More disconcerting, the Lakers have not been as bad offensively as people think.
It was the poor play on defense that led to Mike Brown's firing.
For D'Antoni, "defense" has been a dirty word. His teams have never finished better than 13th in defensive rating. Not surprisingly, that was probably his best team (the 2007 Suns) and truly the closest he's been to a championship.
Dwight Howard is a balm that people assumed would work all over the court. Well, Superman still has traces of Kryptonite in his system and is still getting back to full strength. Metta World Peace is more peach and much less Queensbridge's Ron Artest these days on the defensive end. Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash are excellent on the offensive end, but won't stop Yi Jianlian's chair on defense.
Those are just the realities. I spared Pau Gasol because well, it doesn't need to be said. The point is, the Lakers are not a good team defensively based on their composition of parts. Teams like these need someone with scheme and discipline—someone like Chicago's Tom Thibodeau.
A coach that doesn't emphasize defense with a veteran team (and one that often has to be cajoled into putting max effort out on that end of the floor) is in more trouble than that dog from the Travelers insurance commercial.
D'Antoni will soon learn it's title or bust in Los Angeles
So, there you have it. Not very esoteric, certainly not overly analytical, but in print: Mike D'Antoni will not win a title as Lakers head coach. I do think he will last a full 82-game season, something the first two Jim Buss hires cannot claim.
But while there is lots of top-shelf talent in Los Angeles, getting the maximum out of players five through 12 was a job for someone of Phil Jackson's ilk. Without Jackson, even with memories of the 2011 Dallas destruction still vivid for me, a coach with a defensive pedigree (but the sense not to run the Princeton offense) was vital.
Personally, I made the case for the most intriguing person available a few days ago: Kobe Bryant. But the last player-coach in the NBA remains Dave Cowens in 1979.
As such, it appears the other options rumored and created through conjecture (Jerry Sloan) were simply not options. So the Lakers will go back to offense-first basketball with Mike D'Antoni.
And yes, that will be entertaining to an always finicky Staples Center crowd. This team will put up points. The measure of a title winner, though, is the ability to prevent other teams from doing the same thing. Nothing in the new coach's history suggests that will change. Which means the (relative) title drought in Southern California will continue.