Top Priorities for Mike D'Antoni's First Month on the Job with LA Lakers
Like it or not, the Los Angeles Lakers have officially introduced Mike D'Antoni as their head coach. As a result, D'Antoni will be tasked with leading the franchise that every coach dreams of yet fears leading.
In order to make the most of this opportunity, D'Antoni must prioritize during the first month of his tenure. So, what's on the list of things to do?
Some tasks will require D'Antoni to customize his system to fit his personnel. Others will be on a more personal level than that of a schematic change.
Regardless of what type of alterations must be made, D'Antoni must address these tasks before it's too late.
1. Tweak the System
When Mike D'Antoni was named the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, the instant reaction was a presumption that we will see a mirror image of his Phoenix Suns. With he and point guard Steve Nash reunited, the theory does hold value.
In order to achieve the greatest level of success, however, D'Antoni must make some alterations—that is, if D'Antoni hopes to create an offense that is of a similar build to the Pat Riley "Showtime" Lakers.
According to Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles, that's exactly what he aims to do:
"We would love to be able to play 'Showtime'-type basketball," D'Antoni said. "Now, they might have done it the best that you can do it. We would like to get some place close to that. I think that would be awesome."
"I told the team if we're not averaging 110-115 points a game, we need to talk," D'Antoni said. "That's our goal. It should be easily done."
The question is, how can D'Antoni make that happen? With the following moves, you'll know.
2. Embrace Defense
Are you tired of hearing about Mike D'Antoni not caring about defense when truthfully he does? Well, maybe you could go out and teach him how to coach it.
Then the criticism will disappear.
The common response to said criticism is that the Lakers are a far superior defensive team than D'Antoni's Suns were. While that is true, the Suns were not inept on that end, as Shawn Marion and Shaquille O'Neal were two of many players who could have made a difference.
Although a 110-point-per-game offense would be welcomed, they Lakers will only be as strong as their defensive effort.
3. Prepare for Life Without Nash
As previously alluded to, Steve Nash will return at some point over the next two weeks. Until that happens, however, Mike D'Antoni cannot commit the mistake of assuming he will return in that time.
D'Antoni must coach the Lakers as if Nash will not return at all. If he fails to do so, the potential is there for the Lakers to become stagnant in Nash's absence.
After all, who's to say that a projection of Nash's return in one-to-two weeks will be accurate at all? This is not to doubt the doctors, but instead to ask the imposing question of what happens if Nash can't recover in the allotted period of time?
Enough of the hypothetical and on to reality. Coach D'Antoni must prepare this team as they are if he hopes to win early.
4. Decide Upon a Temporary Point Guard
As exciting as it may be to imagine the limitless possibilities of a Steve Nash and Mike D'Antoni reunion, there is one important fact we must acknowledge—acknowledge, mourn, scorn and address.
Steve Nash could be sidelined for two more weeks with a small fracture in his left fibula (via ESPN).
Due to Nash's absence, Coach D'Antoni will be forced to evaluate the roster and name a temporary replacement. His options include the injured but recovering Steve Blake, veteran Chris Duhon and young spark plug Darius Morris.
As most Lakers fans will agree with, the best move to make is to name Morris as the temporary starter and eventual lead reserve.
For the season, Morris has averaged 18.0 minutes per game and shot 38.5 percent from beyond the arc. Although there will be mistakes from a second-year point guard, Morris' energy and tenacity on both ends makes the Lakers an entirely different animal.
With Blake and Duhon, however, D'Antoni will have a fundamentally sound player with very little athleticism to change the pace of games.
5. Develop the Pick-and-Roll
During the 2011-12 NBA season, center Dwight Howard shot 73.6 percent off of the roll on screen plays. During his five games under Mike Brown in Los Angeles, however, the Lakers ran just two pick-and-roll plays for Howard.
If you're looking for a number to tell you why Brown was fired, that's the one to look at. Although it is a given that coach Mike D'Antoni will run the pick-and-roll, he must take swift action to develop the play between his temporary point guard and Howard.
Although Howard will not have forgotten how to finish, he has hardly run any pick-and-roll plays in Los Angeles.
Regardless of who handles the ball, this will become the primary function of the Lakers offense. For that reason, D'Antoni cannot waste any time in developing the pick-and-roll chemistry between Howard and his teammates.
Otherwise, we'll see the sloppy play some have come to expect.
6. Flash Pau to the Post
By design, Mike D'Antoni's up-tempo offense places the power forward in the pocket on the three-point line. Considering one of the Lakers' greatest flaws in 2011-12 was their inability to work Pau Gasol into the post, this concept simply does not work.
Get Gasol into the post or expect the same results from a year ago.
The Lakers are at their best when Gasol is crashing the boards and facilitating out of the low and high posts: Their offense flows to perfection, their defense plays at a dominant level and the team wins games.
To eliminate one of the most dynamic post players in NBA history would be foolish. It'd also set D'Antoni up for losing his job.
Step One is to flash Pau from the corner into the low and high post to maximize the abilities of one of the most skilled players in the league.
7. Work Meeks into the Rotation
As previously alluded to, the design of Coach D'Antoni's offense sees the power forward and shooting guard placed in the corners of the floor. Considering the team's most lethal three-point shooter is buried on the depth chart, D'Antoni knows what needs to happen.
He must work Jodie Meeks into the rotation.
Meeks is outstanding as a catch-and-shoot scorer, which is the primary function he would serve in D'Antoni's offense. With his ability to score from beyond the arc, the screen-and-roll game between Steve Nash and Dwight Howard would flourish by virtue of a new dynamic.
Placing Meeks in the proper corner will enable him to drain threes off of open looks as the weak-side defender collapses on the diving D-12. No other player on the roster can step in and provide what Meeks does as a shooter.
Not even Kobe Bryant or Metta World Peace, diehards.
8. Accept Jordan Hill
Steve Nash is not the only Laker being reunited with head coach Mike D'Antoni. Joining him will be Jordan Hill, who was infamously buried on the roster by Coach D'Antoni with the New York Knicks (via New York Post).
If D'Antoni hopes to become a legitimate contender, he better bury the hatchet. Hill is the most important player on the Lakers roster.
This is not to say he is the best, as he is not. What Hill provides, however, is a consistency on defense and tenacity on the glass that no other member of the second unit is capable of contributing.
As we've come to learn, your starting lineup is only as good as your reserves enable them to be. With that being known, Hill is the catalyst for whatever production that Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard put forth.
Thus far this season, that has been on full display with evidence from the numbers.
The Lakers are 0-4 and averaging 44.3 rebounds per game when Hill does not play at least 19 minutes. When he does, however, they are 3-1 and averaging 50.5 boards per outing.
The proof is in the numbers. If D'Antoni buries Hill, he's decreasing the Lakers' chances of achieving victory.
9. Define Kobe's Role
With the previous steps taken, all appears to be well in Laker Land: The role players are in their proper places, the stars are being utilized to the best of their abilities and the possibility for Steve Nash's delayed return from injury has been accounted for.
Now it's time to work in your leader.
Kobe Bryant has made it perfectly clear that he is not concerned with having the team built around his abilities. That is exactly why D'Antoni must incorporate Kobe into his system instead of making him the focal point.
This is not to say Kobe will be a complementary piece, but instead to acknowledge that Bryant thrives when forced to play a role instead of roaming free.
This team was constructed in order to distribute the burden of production equally amongst their four stars. In order to do so, it is imperative that D'Antoni places Kobe in a system in which he can both score and facilitate within the flow of the game.
Once D'Antoni has defined Bryant's role in this system, the Lakers will be prepared for a run at the NBA championship.
10. Win Right Now
When the Los Angeles Lakers committed to firing Mike Brown, they cited the lack of desired results. If Mike D'Antoni steps in and experiences those same growing pains, what logic is there in the Lakers displaying patience now?
To put it simply, there is none.
If D'Antoni is unable to win a significant amount of games during his first month as head coach, he might as well be placed on the chopping block. The Lakers opted to hire him over the legendary Phil Jackson, which raises the pressure for an NBA championship.
If D'Antoni can't even meet the early expectations of achieving victory during the regular season, what is stopping L.A. from making another change?