There was a general acceptance that Phil Jackson was coming back to Los Angeles and the Lakers could float off into the sunset toward another title under the guidance of their old Zen Master.
When the front office went off and hired D'Antoni instead, the reaction was mostly negative—shock and confusion, followed by reluctant acceptance.
The general consensus was that D'Antoni's fast-paced offense was fun to watch and all, but it's not something that's going to bring a title to the Lakers.
He had his chance with some great Phoenix Suns teams and had two superstars with the New York Knicks, but he couldn't turn them into champions, so what evidence is there to show that he can turn this Lakers team into gold?
I'll admit it—Jackson probably would have helped this team the most for the future. But that doesn't mean D'Antoni is going to be as big of a flop as the last guy who coached the Lakers instead of Jackson.
In fact, it seems to me that D'Antoni's got a chance to prove that the general opinion of him is wrong and that he can coach a championship team. Whether it happens this season or not is very much up in the air, but he's definitely got the chops to coach a championship-caliber team.
First, there's the accusation that the Lakers offense isn't young enough to run the seven-seconds-or-less offense that D'Antoni demands of his teams.
Well, for that to be true, D'Antoni would have to have run only the SSOL offense his entire career, which he hasn't.
D'Antoni became famous for the seven-seconds-or-less offense with the Suns when he had Steve Nash running alongside Amar'e Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, Leandro Barbosa and Boris Diaw, but his offensive schemes didn't stay that way.
The fact is that D'Antoni is an offensive innovator who is capable of forming an offense around just about anybody. He successfully folded Shaq, who was the slowest man on the planet at the time, into that fast-paced offense.
Then he went to New York, where he not only made Raymond Felton a premier point guard in the NBA but changed the offense enough so that Felton wasn't the focal point like Nash was, centering the offense around Amar'e Stoudemire, and eventually folding in Carmelo Anthony as best he could.
The only problem there was that during his most recent season with New York, injuries and playing styles were too much to overcome.
It's not that his offense was no longer effective—just that the pieces he had to work with were either young or terrible shooters, and a D'Antoni offense doesn't thrive with Landry Fields taking three three-pointers per game and making one every other game.
Then we have to look at what he did with the Team USA offense over the summer. It's not that hard to get superstars to shoot the ball, but it can be hard to get them to share the ball.
When they were humming, everybody was looking for the open shooter and constantly coming off screens. It was a quick, shooter's offense, but it was one not dominated by a point guard, like he had in Phoenix, or dominated by the transition game, like in New York.
D'Antoni with the Lakers offense is going to be a mixture of his work with Team USA over the summer and his old Suns offense centered around Nash.
He has a point guard and a center who can run the pick-and-roll all game long, but he also has Kobe Bryant, who can take a game over if he wants to.
Dwight Howard is the best center he's ever worked with, Kobe is the best shooting guard he's ever worked with and the most driven player he's ever coached, Nash remains his best point guard and Pau Gasol is suddenly Boris Diaw if Diaw were five times better.
We saw the effects of D'Antoni on Los Angeles' offense in their game against Houston Sunday night.
He wasn't on the sidelines, but his system was in place. All they did was go out and have a 40-point first quarter and finish the game with 119 points.
D'Antoni is always going to catch flak for his defenses giving up tons of points every game, but the fact is that when you're taking more shots, your opponents are going to get more shots.
It's a system that thrives on a superior offense (which the Lakers most definitely have) and the defense being good enough (which the Lakers' defense can be).
Looking back at D'Antoni's chances in the past, it's easy to look at 2007 and call it a failure after they won 61 games.
However, if the altercation between Robert Horry and Nash never happened, Stoudemire and Diaw would have played in the next game, and the Suns might have won.
There's no use now rehashing the past, however. It makes more sense to look at D'Antoni's present and future, and it seems both are looking pretty bright.
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