Without Steve Nash, Is There Any Hope for Mike D'Antoni?

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Without Steve Nash, Is There Any Hope for Mike D'Antoni?
Chris Covatta/Getty Images
Steve Nash and Mike D'Antoni symbolically stand side by side.

The remainder of Steve Nash’s career may very well have an influence on Mike D’Antoni’s stint with the Los Angeles Lakers.

The former Phoenix Suns head coach was selected as Mike Brown’s replacement early in the 2012-13 season, despite the fact Phil Jackson seemed inclined to coach the Lakers.

Given the success that D’Antoni had enjoyed with Nash during their days in Phoenix, the front office opted to pair them together in what should have been a successful partnership.

 

Steve Nash with the Lakers

Steve Nash fractured a bone in his leg in the first few games of the 2012-13 campaign and as a result, he missed a substantial chunk of the season. In addition, he dealt with other ailments that also forced him to miss some time.

Thus, his tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers has hardly been a smashing success. It’s worth noting that when the former two-time MVP finally suited up in Los Angeles, he did not resemble the player that Mike D’Antoni coached with the Phoenix Suns.

Nash’s skills deteriorated to some extent and in turn, the coaching staff decided to put the ball in the hands of Kobe Bryant. The five-time champion orchestrated the offense while Nash mostly became a glorified spot-up shooter.

Many expected that would change in 2013-14 with Bryant missing the start of the season due to an Achilles tear. Instead, Nash has battled confidence issues and injuries once again.

His body has betrayed him to the point that he is reportedly considering retirement.

 

Mike D’Antoni tied to Steve Nash

One of the worst kept secrets in the Los Angeles Lakers’ organization was their disdain for the triangle offense. Brian Shaw, who served as an assistant coach with the team during Phil Jackson’s tenure in L.A., said as much in an interview with Ian Thomsen of Sports Illustrated:

“Phil let me know going into the interview [with the Lakers] for me to almost disassociate myself from him, that anything that I said about him or the triangle system would hurt me because of his lack of relationship with Jimmy Buss," Shaw said. "So when I did interview, that was the point that I tried to make about the fact that I had played for Phil only my last four years, and that I played for all of these other coaches."

That component is important in the grand scheme of things because Mike D’Antoni was brought to Los Angeles with the idea that he would make the Purple and Gold the new Showtime. The franchise wanted both style and substance.

And yet, they got neither in D’Antoni’s initial season with the team. Injuries, egos and free agency certainly helped derail those plans. Still, the team’s inability to coalesce under the offensive genius’ watch certainly falls on D’Antoni’s shoulders.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Steve Nash has spent a lot of time on the sidelines as a member of the Lakers.

One can point to the fact that he has not had the full services of Steve Nash at his disposal during his tenure with the Lakers and give him a pass. Mind you, that would be shortsighted.

The version of Nash that turned the Phoenix Suns into an offensive juggernaut is gone. He has been replaced by a player with an aging body that keeps betraying him. Given that D’Antoni’s best seasons coincided with the peak years of Nash’s career, it creates an intriguing situation for the Lakers.

The coach they handpicked to help Kobe Bryant win a sixth world title has lost his biggest supporter and best asset. The four-time All-Star Game MVP is obviously the Lakers’ best player, but he did not have any part in D’Antoni’s previous success (unless we count his previous postseason appearances against his current head coach).

A healthy and productive Nash was always going to tip the scales in his favor. No other player has been as successful as the Canadian in running D’Antoni’s spread pick-and-roll offense.

Given that Nash has not been a big part of the offense and probably will not be going forward, the coach may as well be as good as gone.

Granted, there is no sense in jettisoning him this year with the low expectations tied to this team. However, once the offseason hits, one has to believe the Lakers will give him the pink slip.

The offense has been mediocre in 2013-14, and D’Antoni will get part of the blame there. Granted, the absence of Bryant does him no favors and thus, it’s fair to wonder whether his return will save his head coach.

Mike D’Antoni’s past catches up

Mike D’Antoni’s past relationships with star players are hardly ideal. For instance, in his time with the New York Knicks, it got to the point that he and Carmelo Anthony could no longer coexist. Indeed, Marc Berman of the NY Post has the details:

Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images
Carmelo Anthony and Mike D'Antoni was a failed partnership.

However, Tuesday night, a source said Anthony and D’Antoni spoke in an attempt to reconcile their differences and made headway. On Monday night, Anthony only wanted to remain a Knick if he had assurances D’Antoni wouldn’t be back next season.

This should familiar to Lakers fans because that’s pretty much how the Dwight Howard situation unfolded with the Purple and Gold.

The big man felt as though he was not featured enough in his lone season in L.A. and thus, he wanted assurances there would be a coaching change in order for him to re-sign with the franchise.

Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher has the story: “Talks with various people close to the situation make it clear there were two prerequisites for Dwight Howard to remain a Laker: fire Mike D'Antoni and amnesty, or at the very least muzzle, Kobe Bryant.”

These juicy details are bound to resurface during the 2014 offseason when the organization will be afforded with what is expected to be north of $40 million in cap room if they renounce all of their free agents.

It’s worth noting that if Bryant signs an extension, it will reduce that figure. Still, the Lakers will have an opportunity to make a splash with the big names potentially available during the summer.

However, D’Antoni probably complicates these plans. Two superstars have already wanted him removed from teams they played on and also, let’s not forget that he once famously benched Pau Gasol in the fourth quarter of a game.

When pressed on the rationale for removing the Spaniard from the lineup, he responded:

Metta (World Peace) didn't play, either," D'Antoni said. "So, you try to win the game. I thought Antawn (Jamison) was playing well and I thought the matchups were Ryan Anderson and three little guys. Not even a medium-sized guy we could put him on.

These three different situations highlight the fact that D’Antoni struggles at times with acquiescing to his best players. That will be a difficult obstacle to overcome when management tries selling the Lakers brand and mystique to free agents.

With Nash’s career coming to a close and a seemingly inflexible coaching staff in place, what could possibly prompt players to join the franchise?

You’re guess is as good as mine. That’s why D’Antoni is probably gone at the end of 2013-14.

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