Lakers: Dwight Howard, Mike D’Antoni, and the season from hell.
Part 2 of 2: Mike D’Antoni.
After a disappointing 1-4 start to the 2012-2013 NBA season, the Los Angeles Lakers parted ways with their head coach Mike Brown. General manager, Mitch Kupchak, quoted: “The bottom line is that the team is not winning at the pace that we expected this team to win and we didn’t see improvement. We wish Mike well and we’re sorry it ended this way. So, we’ve decided to move in another direction and make a change.”
After flirting with Phil Jackson (I won’t start on how stupid it was not to hire him or we will be here forever) for a day or so, the Buss family and Mitch Kupchak signed Mike D’Antoni to a three-year, $12 million contact on November 12th 2012. This decision would prove to be a significant one, however not in a positive way.
D’Antoni was selected as the Lakers organisation felt his offensive tactics would be a great fit for the aging Lakers side. The 2005 NBA Coach of the Year has a unique philosophy when it comes to the ins and outs of basketball. Mike is a very offensive minded coach, with the idea that a shot should be taken within the first 7 seconds of a fresh shot clock. The purpose is to play an up-tempo style game, which is designed to gift your team more Field Goal attempts than the opposition. Though, to run this type of attack a teams’ Power Forward needs to be different to the traditional number 4. They need to be athletic, able to run the floor, and have the ability to shoot the three ball. In the past, with a young, fit, and active team, D’Antoni has successfully implemented this ‘run and gun’ attack.
With an average age of 29.1 years old, the 2012-2013 Lakers team are the forth-oldest team in the League. The starting 5 consisted of Steve Nash (39), Kobe Bryant (34), Metta World Peace (33), Pau Gasol (32), and Dwight Howard (27); that’s an average age of 33! Look at that group; besides Howard and Bryant, they haven’t made their careers by being athletic. If these were the five guys who would be spending most of the time on the floor, how was a quick, fast-paced offensive structure going to fit?
Additionally, over his career, Mike has never been recognised for his defensive structures. That was clearly evident in LA this season as the Lakers were 18th in defensive efficiency. Amar’e Stoudemire, a student of D’Antoni’s for five seasons in Phoenix and half of one in New York, quoted in January how Mike Woodson (now the coach at the Knicks), was the first coach throughout his professional career who has actually taught him how to perform defense. Unfortunately for MD, this makes complete sense. Stoudemire is indisputably known for his offensive ability, lacking some important fundamentals on the defensive end; strategies, positioning, posture and footwork. Strangely with his athleticism and size, Amar’e also seems to struggle with shot blocking and defensive rebounding.
Over recent years in the NBA, teams have become a lot more reliant on defensive structures. Field goal attempts per team are much lower than two decades ago because of this; the notion that a team can be highly successful without allocating an abundant amount of time to defensive principles is ridiculous.
The Buss family and Mitch Kupchak at the Lakers organisation must front the blame for the hiring of MD. What was so impressive about Mike’s resume? At what point has he ever significantly proved himself as an above-par NBA coach? Was it in the 2004-2005 season when Mike’s Phoenix team had the best record in the NBA (62-20)? Did they not see the San Antonio Spurs tear them apart in the Western Conference Finals 4-1 that post-season?
In Mike’s eleven years as head coach in the NBA, he’s been fired from the Denver Nuggets for poor performance (1998-1999 season), he has missed the playoffs four times, lost in the first round three times, lost in the conference semifinals once, lost in the conference finals twice, and resigned from the New York Knicks on March 14 2012 after a disappointing 18-24 start to the season.
D’Antoni left the Phoenix Suns in 2008 after they lost in the first round to the Spurs. Mike’s ego and stubborn personality were the catalysts for his departure. General manager at the time, Steve Kerr, wanted Mike to hire Tom Thibodeau as a defensive assistant. D’Antoni was so insulted that his methods were being questioned and quit.
Essentially, the Suns didn’t have a defensive coach and clearly Kerr could see the league was transforming into a defensive minded association; something that Mike couldn’t grasp, and after his time at New York and in LA, it’s obvious he still doesn’t. The 2012-2013 season is the first time in seven years that Dwight Howard didn’t make the NBA All-Defensive First or Second team. Coincidence?
You cannot blame D’Antoni for accepting the job, who wouldn’t take it? Last November that starting five looked mouth watering! In saying that, you can absolute fault D’Antoni for his inability to adapt and adjust his coaching techniques after being hired.
For an offensive minded coached, how did it take him four months to realise that Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard can play together? His response;
”I’ve come to realise that we can play with the two big guys. I was a little skeptical at first. I think with both of them being close to 100 per cent, yeah, they can play together easily. I kind of had a preconceived notion that probably wasn’t right.”
If Phil Jackson, the greatest NBA coach in history, was able to use Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol on the court at the same time (and win back-to-back NBA titles; 2008-2009, 2009-2010), then surely you’d determine right away how you plan to use Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol collectively. Wouldn’t you? How could you come into this new coaching roll with a ‘preconceived notion’ that it wasn’t possible?
It’s mind blowing that such an attacking inclined coach couldn’t see how Pau’s ball skills, ability to knocks down shots at the elbow, and high basketball IQ would open up the floor (especially down low) for Dwight Howards’ aggressive play?
How the hell did Mike think Earl Clark (a 24- year old at the time, who had started only one NBA game before signing with the Lakers), or Antwan Jamison (36 year old on his 5th NBA team), were going to give you more than Gasol in crunch time? I mean come on! Pau is a two-time Champion within the last 5 years! It’s no coincidence that Lakers started winning more when Pau and Howard were given a chance to play together.
It’s no secret that D’Antoni isn’t the best player manager. Whatever team he has been on, or left, there have always been numerous rumors surrounding his incapability to control and manage specific players. When in Phoenix it was Amar’e Stoudemire; in New York he estranged Carmelo Anthony before he even arrived by publicly stating he didn’t want him; Mike was at the Lakers for just three days before he benched Pau Gasol then disrespected him by openly insulting his performance; finally he ignored Dwight Howard’s comments at the end of the season which clearly just infuriated him. Is it poor management or a lack of respect from the players? Both, and in that order.
In the whole league, 34-year old Kobe Bryant was second in minutes per game this season at 38.6, with Kobe being the only player older than the age of 28 in the top 15 rankings. Furthermore, Bryant averaged 45.2 minutes per game in April, including his final four games where he played over 46 minutes. Coaches must have the skill to manage players’ time on the floor in order to keep them as fresh as possible for the post-season, especially your key guys. It’s understandable that the Lakers wanted to make the playoffs. Though, normally if Kobe had his way, he wouldn’t miss a minute all season; however against Memphis even Bryant asked to be taken out as he had nothing left in the tank. What type of message does this send to your bench players if the coach continuously over uses their greatest player? More than likely, certain players would get the impression that the coach doesn’t believe in their ability. Yeah the Lakers bench isn’t fantastic, yet in the NBA there is no second string side that is so horrible you cannot rotate your players so your best guys get their much-needed rest.
Kobe Bryant never would check himself back in when Phil Jackson was coaching.
Unfortunately for D’Antoni and Laker fans, Mike’s offensive scheme failed this season; I’m not saying it doesn’t work with the right bunch of players. His reputation has taken another beating and the Lakers organisation must be held responsibility for not identifying the contrast between Mike’s system and the current players on the roster. However, MD’s total inability to manage the team individually is a defining reason for the Lakers awful chemistry this season. Once again demonstrating how one-dimensional his coaching tactics truly are. We don’t associate Mike D’Antoni with greatest when we think of the NBA. Why do you think that is?
Stay turned for: Lakers: Dwight Howard, Mike D’Antoni, and the season from hell.