After the farce that was the Los Angeles Lakers coaching search that yielded them Mike D'Antoni as the replacement for Mike Brown, rather than Phil Jackson, we can finally get back down to business and see what D'Antoni can do on the sidelines.
I suppose the only question left is how long D'Antoni has before the Lakers start to light a fire under his belly with talks of a return of the "Zen Master."
Brown coached in just 83 games for the Lakers, including his foray into the postseason with the team last season, so D'Antoni could conceivably surpass that number this season.
The only question is how much the Los Angeles front office is going to let him get away with.
D'Antoni joked about just that before Tuesday night's game against the Brooklyn Nets:
D'Antoni on sitting in Phil's elevated chair tonight: "I hope its my chair now. Maybe I'm keeping it warm."
— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) November 21, 2012
Lakers coaches not named Phil Jackson haven't had a very good track record ever since Jackson took over in 1999 with four different men taking on the job before D'Antoni, all lasting a combined 170 games. Of course, Frank Hamblen and Bernie Bickerstaff held the job in an interim status, but the relatively low number of games is jarring regardless.
So, are the Lakers going to fall for every single criticism that comes across D'Antoni when they inevitably Google his name six times a day? Or are they going to step back and give him some room to actually work?
Right now it seems as if the only option is the latter. What they have is the best coach possible without the last name Jackson. And regardless of D'Antoni's joke before the game, it would seem that this was the last time Jackson would have come back to the Lakers. After the front office pulled the rug out from underneath him it seems that the Jackson ship has sailed directly into a burnt bridge.
Just three weeks into the NBA season, this is Mike D'Antoni's team. Instead of a fake vote of confidence from the front office like Brown got, D'Antoni got the ultimate vote of confidence—they hired him instead of Jackson.
There was a certain amount of trust it took in hiring D'Antoni. The Buss Family knows Jackson, they know he would have come in and succeeded with the Lakers, regardless of the ridiculous power grabs he made. So, when they decided to hire D'Antoni instead, they might as well have given him the keys to the Ferrari.
This Lakers team is set up for D'Antoni to be successful. They've got his own point guard, an athletic big man and a few shooters. They've got the most determined player in the league in Kobe Bryant, and they have near-unlimited resources to get whatever player he wants.
At this point, if the Lakers ownership were to put D'Antoni under the same scrutiny as they did Brown, it would be a shot in the foot to this team and a disgraceful black eye to the organization as a whole.
Brown, Jackson and D'Antoni are all relatively high-profile coaches. If they were to end up mistreating D'Antoni, that would be three very well-known coaches (along with Brian Shaw, a high-profile assistant) they have mistrusted and mistreated over the past two years. That's not exactly an attitude that's going to have more big name coaches banging down their door, should they be looking for another sooner rather than later.
It's a simple as this: Los Angeles will give D'Antoni a longer leash because they have no other options. The team they have in front of them is their team for the next seven months (give or take an addition or two).
Not only that, D'Antoni is under contract for the next four seasons. It's not that they can't pay whatever his buyout might be, but if they end up snapping this one before it ends, they'll develop a reputation as a team that works poorly with coaches.
If they don't make this work out, we could see Jim Buss in the high chair on the sidelines at Lakers games this time next season.