L.A. Lakers Just Need a Coach Who Won't Get in Way of Superstar Talent
The last thing the Los Angeles Lakers needed was another superstar.
Which is exactly what Phil Jackson was and potentially still is—a superstar. The only difference between him and Kobe Bryant is he dons a suit and sits on the sidelines.
And let's be honest, is a fifth ego really something the Lakers are prepared to handle at this point?
No, not at all.
Because they have yet to prove they can even balance the four they already have.
Bryant and Dwight Howard are two of the most polarizing figures in basketball with two of the biggest egos you'll ever bear witness to. Pau Gasol and Steve Nash—while poster boys for humility—are superstars in their own right as well.
Is that a bad thing?
Again, not at all, but there comes a point where you need to admit that you have too many potential conflicts on your hand and that putting them in the control of someone who pines for absolute control is dangerous, bordering on unproductive.
Let's not mince words and diminish Jackson's potential impact. His résumé speaks for itself, after all. But let's also not pretend that he isn't an egotistical coaching fixture, because he is and it was his ego that ultimately cost him the job.
Which is a good thing. For Los Angeles, that is.
The Lakers didn't need a coach who demanded as much attention as their convocation of superstars currently does. No, they needed a coach who could simply create a free-flowing environment in which each of the team's heralded athletes could thrive. Not just one, two or three, but all four of them.
Simply put, they needed someone who could lay the groundwork for success and then get out of the way.
I've spent an ample amount of time reading stats that the age of social media has provided us with in regard to D'Antoni's coaching tenures. And after much consideration, I've deemed them worthless.
We cannot speculate on how poorly the Lakers' defense or even offense will be with D'Antoni at the helm. We can't even began to gauge how successful or unsuccessful he'll be in the playoffs with this group.
Because D'Antoni has never coached this team, or even a team remotely as talented as this one. No one has, save for Mike Brown.
Therefore, in the interest of parity, this also means I cannot sit here and tell you that D'Antoni is going to lead the Lakers to a title this season. So I won't.
What I will tell you is that this team needed an attitude, needed a coaching approach like D'Antoni's. That laid-back, player-friendly style—the one that rendered D'Antoni unsuccessful in New York—is something this team needs.
These aren't the New York Knicks, they're the star struck Lakers; these aren't players who need to be rode by a perfectionist or dictator.
We've already watched Nash win two MVP awards under D'Antoni. We've already watched Kobe win a gold medal in D'Antoni's system and then endorse his hiring. We've already watched Gasol do his job for anybody, and we've seen how an outspoken coach can get on Howard's bad side in Stan Van Gundy.
"I love him," Kobe Bryant simply said about Mike D'Antoni via e-mail to Y! Sports early Monday morning.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) November 12, 2012
Given that, why would we expect Jackson's micromanaging tendencies to go over better than D'Antoni's creativity-driven persona?
I understand Kobe and Gasol have already won rings with Jackson. To be honest, though, I don't care. Not anymore.
This isn't the same team from 2009-10. Hell, this isn't the same team from last season. This is the most star-laden team the league has arguably ever seen; this is an entity that must be handled with the utmost of delicacy.
And Jackson is anything but delicate, Kobe himself will tell you that. But D'Antoni is. Unlike Jackson, his offense isn't as structured—in a good way. It relies mostly on instincts and the adequacy of a point guard. And unlike Brown, D'Antoni won't force feed a system to his players that they don't like or aren't winning with.
More importantly, though, D'Antoni is similar to Erik Spoelstra.
Yes, Spoelstra. The same coach who led his team to an NBA championship last season by allowing the superstars to run the offense. He didn't institute a set blueprint LeBron James and Dwyane Wade had to follow. Instead, he expected them, his playmakers, to make plays.
That's exactly what D'Antoni does and it's exactly why he was the perfect fit for this team.
Sure, it didn't work out with the Knicks, but that's because D'Antoni's style didn't suit Carmelo Anthony, a superstar who needs to be held accountable—a superstar who doesn't respond unless a predetermined bar is set for him.
Which is why Mike Woodson, as Newsday's Al Iannazzone notes, is such a good fit in New York:
D'Antoni is a good coach, but he never said what Woodson did and that's 1 of the reasons it didn't work with Knicks
"I'm not going to deal with guys who have bad egos," Woodson told his veteran team before the first practice. "If they got a problem, they have to go. That's how I look at it."
With a superstar like 'Melo, that's how you need to be. When his ego is allowed to run its course, his team self-destructs. Just ask the Denver Nuggets.
And no, it's not a knock on Anthony, I'm just simply acknowledging he needs to be held in check.
The Lakers, however, are a different story.
What happens when you try to stifle Bryant? If you're anyone other than Jackson, you'd lose your job. And what happens when you try to deny Howard's will? You wind up like the Orlando Magic.
Who should the Lakers had hired to be their head coach?
So let's not sit here and pretend that Jackson was the perfect fit. As valuable as his basketball ideals are, his ego and sense of self-worth provided yet another obstacle for Los Angeles to overcome.
I myself endorsed his hiring until just before the 11th hour, when his list of demands became too overwhelming and his will much too strong.
The Lakers didn't need that. They needed someone who could be a part of the solution by trusting that these proven stars would work the inevitable kinks out themselves.
They needed someone who could be a beacon of hope by simply allowing his system to be a vessel for success, not its end-all.
They needed someone who believes in their superstars and their abilities, not someone who bruises egos by satiating his own.
They needed Mike D'Antoni.
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