“I’m a big believer that the coach is something you travel to and from the game” ~ Shane Warne, Australian Cricket legend.
Just how important is a coach? Are they the Ship’s Captain and Navigator or just the flag trailing behind the crew?
The Finals this year pitted two of the best against each other. The presence of the old master Popovich and the young gun Spoelstra suggest that the coach is more than just “something you travel to and from the game in”.
However, the Finals also featured a certain LeBron James as well as: Duncan, Bosh, Parker, Ginobli, Kawhi Leonard and Dwayne Wade. That list of players is nothing if not Finals-worthy. Could they have gotten there on their own?
All this is important when determining the effect of Mike D’Antoni.
Many are calling for his head. Many believe he is the reason Dwight Howard is anxious to leave. They believe his system does not work, that the defense is unfixable and uncared for. That he ran Kobe Bryant into the ground. They believe he looks like the guy from the Pringle’s can.
All fireable offences.
But D’Antoni should not be fired.
Even if Phil Jackson is there and ready to coach, D’Antoni should not be fired.
The former Euroleague MVP, was not given the luxury of a training camp. He retained an overflowing coaching crew which could not have possibly delivered a coherent and unified message to the team.
But he had the players. That’s what they believe. They see Nash, they see Dwight. They see Kobe and Pau and Meeks and Jamison and they say, “that list is nothing if not finals-worthy”. It’s what we all said when the team was formed.
But the players were not there. Howard was never there – only a hollowed shell ever took to the hardwood. Nash struggled with a broken bone in his leg to go along with his ailing back. Gasol missed time. The list goes on but it is long, boring, arduous and extremely painful.
Howard and Nash hurt the most. He had been brought in to unlock their pick-and-roll game which Nash was not healthy enough to run it and Howard was too interested in some imagined legacy to even run it effectively with Steve Blake. Injuries crushed the hand that D’Antoni was dealt.
Suffice to say, D’Antoni did not pick a starting line-up of Nash-Morris-Bryant-Metta-Sacre to face the Spurs because of some inspired tactical masterpiece. It was picked because of injuries. Even with Kobe, that lineup is nothing if not lottery-bound.
Amidst all the injuries, D’Antoni did not land in the lottery. The Lakers, under him, went 28-12 down the stretch. That’s the undisputable win – loss record. And it was what got them into the playoffs. Given some time D’Antoni’s team started to win. It was not all him of course, but it was not all Kobe either.
D’Antoni should not be fired because he was not the problem. He did what he could, he adapted his sets – find me multiple possessions of seven seconds or less. He changed when everyone said he could not.
Give him a benefit of an off-season. Hopefully Dwight Howard stays. Hopefully the team can be tailored towards D’Antoni in some small way; Kobe has asked for an infusion of youth after all.
Firing a multiple coaches is a bad look. It’s not a signifier of a stable organization. It shows dysfunction. Firing coaches to suit any player, especially one as traditionally undecided as Howard is a fools errand. It does not work. Did not work for the Cavaliers (fired Mike Brown) and it did not work for the Magic (fired Stan Van Gundy) and it will not work for the Lakers. They should keep what they already have.
The coach is important in basketball. D’Antoni can do more than drive the team bus. We just have to give him the chance.