After what was thought to be the job only Phil Jackson was going to take, the Los Angeles Lakers made a shock move late Monday night by hiring ex-New York Knicks and Olympic coach Mike D’Antoni. D’Antoni will likely assume control of the team against Phoenix on Friday as he is currently unable to fly to LA due to an existing knee condition he recently had surgery on. This hiring makes a lot of sense to the Lakers who have struggled to get any fluency on offense this season, and with players like Steve Nash, whom D’Antoni has coached before, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard on the team this is sure to be one big offensive juggernaut. Here, we’re breaking down what went wrong with Phil Jackson, and where the Lakers can excel under Mike D’Antoni.
The hiring was a shock to many after the previous 48 hours were filled with speculation that former coach Phil Jackson would resume the role in Los Angeles and again attempt to guide the team to a Championship. Legions of fans cried out for the ‘Zen Master’ to return to his role, with chants of ‘We Want Phil’ echoing around the Staples Center, and reports suggested you could bet your house on it happening. But it wasn’t to be. Late Monday night, the Lakers announced that the new coach had signed his paperwork and was on his way to LA, and it wasn’t big Phil. In a twist, the Lakers had reportedly given Jackson till Monday (US) to come back to them and accept the job he was offered, but instead skipped on him and sent the papers directly to Mike D’Antoni who accepted, and was officially the new coach as of midnight on Saturday. The Lakers reasoning behind this wasn’t clear, but it is reported that Jackson was asking for too much. $10 Million a year, travel allowances and to pick his own staff. Additionally, it has been suggested he wanted the final say when it came to players and strategies over Jim Buss. This appeared to be the deal breaker.
The fallout has not been good. Jackson has responded to the apparent backhand by the Lakers by saying he actually offered to coach the team for less considering their already astronomical luxury tax position, while his agent mentioned Jackson was in better health than he had been in years and was more than happy to travel with the team on lengthy road trips. In a press release by Mitch Kupchak this morning however, the issues surrounding Jackson were addressed. According to Kupchak, the Lakers had not intentionally mislead Jackson to believe it was his job to refuse but in fact Jackson had said he needed till Monday to decide whether or not to begin negotiations. Kupchak is adamant he told Jackson he would continue to search for a coach, regardless of his Monday deadline. Additionally, the official word is that neither salary nor travel were discussed. They were issues to be ironed out following Jackson’s decision as to his desire for the job.
Mitch Kupchak has also stated there was much admiration expressed for a coach who star Kobe Bryant has told the media he regards as one of his idols and role models. Management believes that this is the ideal choice over Phil Jackson going forward, and despite his lack of defensive efficiency should provide a lot to this star studded Lakers outfit.
D’Antoni has never been noted for his defense, but with a player such as Dwight Howard in his lineup, this shouldn’t pose too much of a problem. Howard is so big and athletic that the majority of opposition offense is shut down by his sheer size in any case. D’Antoni has expressed that with Howard at the five, there’s not a lot to worry about and in any case, Kobe Bryant has also come forward to say the Lakers only ran three defensive drills at most under Phil Jackson.
The key for D’Antoni is using his arsenal of offensive beasts in Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash. Going forward, there is little doubt he will be able to utilize Steve Nash a lot more than he was used in the Princeton and this, believe me, is a good thing for everyone involved. Nash is a premier pick and roll point guard and re-pairing him with D’Antoni makes all the sense in the world when he is playing alongside two dominant big men in Gasol and Howard. Kobe will find open space to knock down shots via space created off the pick and can play his fair share of isolation as well. This writer in particular would like to see Kobe continue with the out and out deadliness with which he has begun this year and he should be able to do so under D’Antoni. It’s unlikely that the Lakers will subscribe to his ‘Under 7 Seconds’ offense due to their age and slow pace, but you can be assured they will be a higher scoring, offensively scary team. The Princeton offense was not something that suited this team, and being that it is eerily similar to the triangle, it’s almost a blessing Phil Jackson isn’t back at the helm.
While D’Antoni’ has been scheduled to arrive in L.A. on Wednesday, it isn’t set in stone but all going to plan, he should be available to coach his new team against the Suns on Friday. Current interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff will guide the Lakers through today’s game against San Antonio and should they pull off a win, will go to 3-0 under his guidance since the departure of Mike Brown. The Lakers will likely struggle today against a rampaging Spurs without Steve Nash or back up point guard Steve Blake being able to guard Tony Parker, but rest assured a new coach and a reinvigorated outlook is exactly what this Lakers team needs, and they will only continue to improve once he arrives.