Mike D'Antoni's Next Step Should Be Starring as a College Head Coach

J.M. Poulard@ShyneIVContributor IIFebruary 6, 2014

Mike D'Antoni
Mike D'AntoniMark Duncan/Associated Press

At some point, Mike D'Antoni will depart from the Los Angeles Lakers, and his next stop might have to be in college.

His departure from the Lakers will come either via resignation or because the franchise opts for a different direction. Granted, there is no certainty that general manager Mitch Kupchak will dispose of him, but the writing certainly seems to be on the wall.


A Bad Hand

The Lake Show are going through a rebuilding phase, and D'Antoni probably is not the man to guide the team into the future despite the hard reality he has been obliged to deal with. Since arriving in Los Angeles, injuries have robbed him of a legitimate opportunity to compete for a top spot in the Western Conference standings.

D'Antoni shared as much with Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports:

Obviously, the thing was the chemistry just wasn't right and guys' injuries just decimated us. Our guys weren't right that were even playing. Dwight [Howard] wasn't right until about February. With all the expectations, it kind of crumbles you a bit.

Steve Nash has missed roughly the equivalent of a full season, while Pau Gasol has been sidelined for what should amount to approximately 50 games by the time the All-Star break rolls around.

In addition, D'Antoni has only had Kobe Bryant for a mere six games this season. When looking at the coach's tenure through this prism, it would appear as though the team might retain him going forward, given the challenges he has had to face in the City of Angels.


Moving On

However, the team is going to reboot itself in the summer and go after a star free agent with its projected cap room of nearly $26 million (provided it renounces all of its unsigned players).

Could this tag team join forces in the future?
Could this tag team join forces in the future?Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

One of the players the Lakers are interested in bringing in is Carmelo Anthony, sources told Ramona Shelburne and Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com, and the interest seems to be mutual, according to the New York Post's Marc Berman.

However, as Anthony stated to Sam Amick of USA Today, the interest depends on the status of Bryant: "I mean you'll have to see. It's hard to gauge at this point, not until he comes back (from his April Achilles tendon tear) and figures some things out. So I don't know. They might have some plans up their sleeve."

D'Antoni's challenges when coaching superstars will serve as an impediment as it pertains to bringing in prospective talent this summer, which could warrant his dismissal.

The former New York Knicks coach had a well-documented rift with Dwight Howard during his first season in L.A. Also, Carmelo Anthony's tenure in New York got off to a rocky start under D'Antoni. That could be enough to discourage elite performers from joining the most glamorous franchise in basketball.

If such is the case, the Lakers will more than likely can him, and D'Antoni will begin his quest for a new gig.

D'Antoni has probably reached his plateau in the professional ranks. He had a great record with the Phoenix Suns, but the Lakers coach has not been able to replicate that level of success in any other stop.

One could say D'Antoni revolutionized the NBA with his "Seven Seconds our Less" offense, but he is no longer a pioneer. The league has caught up with him, and also, teams have copied that famed style. It would appear as though the Association no longer has a pressing need for him.

In fact, the league has actually surpassed him. Opponents have figured out how to defend his offense, and also, teams now mimic his pace all the while defending at levels D’Antoni’s squads never enjoyed.

The L.A. coach never figured out how to build balanced teams, and as a result, he quickly went from genius to just about average.

To be fair, D'Antoni might be an interesting choice as an assistant coach in the NBA, but it's difficult to envision him in such a role. He has a spotty record in terms of player rapport, and one can only wonder whether anyone would take a chance at D'Antoni in that capacity given his failings. He is far too set in his ways and appears incapable of adapting based on the specific needs of his teams.

Consequently, the former Coach of the Year might be better off working at the collegiate level.

Why College?

Mike D'Antoni as a member of the USA Basketball coaching staff
Mike D'Antoni as a member of the USA Basketball coaching staffDusan Vranic/Associated Press/Associated Press

USA Basketball brought Mike D'Antoni in during the Olympics and World Championships to serve in some sort of offensive coordinator role. His spread pick-and-roll offense was a big help given that it allowed the Americans to open up the court against defenses that wanted to shut down the paint at all costs.

Armed with ball-handlers, shooters and great finishers, the USA offense flourished.

D'Antoni may have his flaws, but he can extract the best out of perimeter players, provided they are proficient at shooting or handling the ball. Think of the likes of Joe Johnson and Quentin Richardson when they played for the Phoenix Suns, Jeremy Lin with the New York Knicks and now Kendall Marshall, Nick Young and Jodie Meeks of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Keep in mind, we are talking about mid-tier players (with the exception of Johnson, who was at the time on the cusp of the elite), and D'Antoni's offense usually makes them look very good. The college game is filled with one-dimensional players who could run a light version of his offense.

Indeed, a team constructed with a perimeter playmaker surrounded by long-range snipers would be a devastating force in a mid-major conference (think Florida Gulf Coast University).

A D'Antoni-led unit would exploit zone defenses at the collegiate level and also beat man-to-man principles. The combination of screening, passing and shooting would make his squad entertaining and productive. His offenses have always placed a rather large emphasis on sharing the ball and feeding the open man, which would be fairly constant on D'Antoni's college team.

Wouldn't you tune in to watch an NCAA team that mostly ran pick-and-rolls and shot treys?


Roster Construction

Mike D'Antoni has been given players to work with, but they have not always fit in with his style.
Mike D'Antoni has been given players to work with, but they have not always fit in with his style.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

One of the most interesting aspects of Mike D'Antoni's NBA coaching tenure is the architecture of his rosters. He has always inherited players from previous regimes and then made them adapt to his philosophy. In some cases, D'Antoni had issues incorporating guys, and his teams struggled.

That is the gist of his time with the New York Knicks, and also, this has manifested itself with the Los Angeles Lakers and Pau Gasol.

Should the coach switch gears and head over to the NCAA, he would initally inherit players again, but he would quickly get the opportunity to recruit the specific type of athletes he wants for his uptempo system.

Although D'Antoni might have to compete with other universities for the best talent, his school would have a bit of cachet because of his NBA ties. Hence, the new coach would attract the guys he wants for his team and build a contender.

There's something to be said for bringing in the students he desires. The college game allows the head coach to play the role of leader and father figure, which means that D'Antoni will become the man his players worship, so to speak.

People on the team will be expected to follow his rules and philosophies; otherwise, they will be let go. Unlike the pro game, D'Antoni will hold the fate of his players' basketball careers in his hands. Scholarships can and will be revoked in the event players fail to comply.

This might be the most pertinent reason for D'Antoni to leave professional basketball.

When forced to deal with confrontations or issues that fracture teams, more often than not, he has failed. Superstars have backed him into corners, and instead of fighting back and asserting a leadership role, he has instead reached for the ropes.

In the NCAA, D'Antoni will not deal with these types of situations. If anything, he will be given carte blanche to operate as he sees fit, and players will have to follow.


The University Experience

During his stint coaching the Phoenix Suns, Mike D'Antoni was seemingly joyful and enthused. His accrued failures have occasionally turned him into a grumpy man that snipes at the media when pressed on difficult topics.

He took shots at fans and even publicly challenged Pau Gasol in the face of tough questions from the media.

An argument could be made that professional basketball has broken him. The pressures of coaching in big markets such as New York and Los Angeles will do that to people as Rudy Tomjanovich can attest.

Thus, exiting the NBA in favor of the college game is in fact the best avenue available for the Laker coach.

The energy and investment is vastly different on campuses, and that's probably what D'Antoni needs more than anything to regain his joy for the sport. Back in the summer of 2012, he offered this intriguing quote to Dan Bickley of The Arizona Republic:

You look at it and think, 'Oh, that could be fun.' One thing I do know from taking my son around is that anytime you step on a college campus, you feel energy. You feel an excitement that's not there, normally, where the business (of basketball) takes over. And obviously, when you feel the excitement; things go through your head.

Happiness awaits D’Antoni down in the NCAA. At this point, it almost looks like fate.


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