When Mike D’Antoni was hired to be the Lakers head coach, shortly after Mike Brown was dismissed 5 games into the season, Lakers’ fans were disappointed. The disappointment stemmed from having Phil Jackson dangled in front of Lakers fans. Phil is a legend in Los Angeles, having coached the Lakers to 7 NBA Finals during his tenure. With a team loaded with talent, it seemed logical to bring in Phil to right the ship and lead the team to the promise land. Instead the Lakers hired Mike D’Antoni, in part because his offense was suited to the direction the NBA was headed, at least in Jim Buss’ mind.
We all know how the season turned out. An injury to Steve Nash delayed D’Antoni’s ability to install his offense and the Lakers never really found a rhythm. Dwight Howard was opposed to D’Antoni’s style and only bought into the system following the All-Star break, where the Lakers went 28-12. Mike D’Antoni has taken a beating in the press since taking over for the Lakers. There are weekly calls for him to be fired and many place the blame of Dwight leaving on D’Antoni.In reality, last season Coach D’Antoni never got to coach the way he wanted to. He took over a team that had been learning a completely different offense without his conductor, Steve Nash, to help ease the transition. Unfairly, Mike D’Antoni has been deemed a “bad coach” because of this past season. What we saw last season was nothing like the offense D’Antoni wants to run, although on the defensive side, he does have his shortcomings.
The offense that D’Antoni employs was dubbed the “Seven Seconds or Less” offense. The idea is to push the ball in transition and to get a shot up before the defense can get back and get set. Better shots lead to a better offense and by having a more efficient offense, the Lakers are able to get back and get set on defense themselves. This will, in theory, eliminate so many fast break/transition opportunities for the other team. The commonly parroted idea that D’Antoni doesn’t know how or doesn’t care to coach defense is overstated. Last season, the Lakers were a mess all around – on offense and defense. In Phoenix, his Suns teams gave up a lot of points due to their faster pace. More possessions for your team will also lead to more possessions for the other team.
So now we will get to see Coach D’Antoni with a full offseason to prepare. The roster has also been tweaked to fit his run-and-gun style better. The signings of Wesley Johnson, Nick Young, and Jordan Farmar (although the Lakers are still working with the Turkish club, Anadolu Efes, on the buyout) in conjunction with the drafting of Ryan Kelly represent a commitment to the D’Antoni system. The Lakers found some youth who will be able to thrive in the D’Antoni system, as well as provide some athleticism on defense. The Lakers other free agent signing, Chris Kaman, should also find success in the D’Antoni system, due to his ability to hit shots from basically anywhere inside the three point line. Taking a look at his shot chart from last season, you can see how he could be utilized in the pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop.
So Mike D’Antoni will get his 2nd chance with the Lakers this year. He has a team better suited to his system, no longer has a player unwilling to embrace his system, and will actually have a full preseason to get the team prepared. Without Dwight Howard, the Lakers obviously aren’t as talented. But as we saw last season, talent isn’t everything. Last season, every shortcoming the Lakers had could be countered with an excuse. This season, there is no excuse for the offense not executing at a higher level. If the Lakers aren’t more enjoyable to watch on offense next season, Mike D’Antoni will have failed at his job. The Lakers need continuity at the head coaching position – this is D’Antoni’s opportunity to provide that.