Well, that’s it folks. The excitement surrounding the City of Angels and Lakers fans across the nation about a possible return of the Zen Master has come to an abrupt end. The Lakers, who a lot of sports pundits crowned “Best Team in the League” before the talented starting five even stepped on the court together, have tabbed Mike D’Antoni as the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.
I don’t know about you, but my initial reaction is not a happy one. D’Antoni’s lack of defensive prowess is well-documented, as is his inability to successfully integrate Carmelo Anthony with Amar’e Stoudemire, Linsanity and the Knicks.
First, let’s start with the positives. D’Antoni has coached Steve Nash before to great results, and could make the Nash-Howard pick-and-roll work beautifully. Beyond Nash, because of the importance of the point guard in D’Antoni’s system, all Laker point guards can expect to statistically improve over the course of the season. D’Antoni also made the best of Boris Diaw’s talent as a passing big man, so there should be little reason to believe the multi-talented Pau Gasol wouldn’t thrive under his system.
The problem, then, would be three-fold: First, Kobe Bryant is a high-usage, high-volume shooter, who likes to occasionally slow things down and work in the post. Dumping him in a free-flowing offense that relies on the point guard to dominate may not be the best recipe for success. The second, and more prominent issue, would be establishing a defensive identity–something that has never been D’Antoni’s strong-suit.
It is undeniable that Dwight Howard can singlehandedly make a team’s defense respectable, even without a defensive-minded coach. However, if Howard’s and the team’s defensive struggles early on (under the helm of a coach whose primary specialty is defense) are any indication of this team’s defensive identity for the season, then D’Antoni will most definitely struggle on the defensive end of the floor as the head coach of LA’s glitziest team. D’Antoni can somewhat address this issue by bringing in competent defensive specialists as assistant coaches. However, based on potential assistant coach names floating around the media, no such candidate is currently being considered.
Lastly, one of D’Antoni’s biggest critiques is that he relies too heavily on the starters of his respective teams. He does not give his benches enough of an opportunity to play significant minutes to develop a sustainable rhythm. Given Nash’s and Kobe’s ages, having the starters play hefty minutes while not giving the bench enough time to develop may not bode well for the Lakers in the playoffs.
We can only hope that along with reestablishing some of the ‘Showtime’ magic on offense, D’Antoni is able to create a solid defensive identity for a team outfitted to win big now.