So, the Lakers shocked pretty much everyone here in L.A., and all over the globe, and hired Mike D’Antoni to be their next coach. This is all according to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, who’s reporting that D’Antoni has signed a three-year, $12 million guaranteed deal with a team option for a fourth.
Of course, the Lakers fired Mike Brown on Friday after their 1-4 start, and rumors were circulating that Phil Jackson, a two-time Lakers coach and 11-time NBA champion, would make his triumphant third return to the Lakers. Bresnahan had even quoted one Lakers source as saying a reunion was a “95%” probability. (Good thing I didn’t play the odds on that one.)
So what does this mean? Well, for one, the obvious here is Steve Nash’s reunion with D’Antoni. D’Antoni was the head man in Phoenix for 5 years, 4 of which were spent with Nash, winning Coach of the Year honors in 2004-05 and leading the Suns to the Western Conference Finals in consecutive years. Nash, D’Antoni & the Suns won three Pacific Division titles, but were bounced in each of their four postseason appearances.
Nash put up some incredible numbers with D’Antoni, winning two league MVP awards and consistently averaging at least 15.5 points and 10.5 assists per night. The run-and-gun style of play suited Nash’s free-flowing skill set and the Suns’ young, athletic roster.
D’Antoni will certainly spark some life into a Lakers offense that is desperately in need. Sure, the Lakers are tenth in total offense, averaging 98.6 points per game, but much of that comes against mediocre talent in wins against Detroit, Golden State and Sacramento. And this is a roster that boasts at least three, maybe four, future Hall of Famers, so points should not be of so much of a premium.
But does D’Antoni have the roster to play up-tempo ball in L.A.? Sure, Nash and Dwight Howard (as long as the back’s healthy) can move, but Kobe’s already playing 40 minutes a night. And the Lakers don’t have the depth. Jodie Meeks and Antawn Jamison are still struggling to score, combining for 2 points in 27 minutes on 1-8 shooting tonight … against the Kings. Until Meeks and Jamison pick up their play — and Nash returns from his leg fracture to delegate Steve Blake back to reserve duty — the only player the Lakers can really count on from their bench right now is Jordan Hill, also not exactly known for his scoring prowess.
D’Antoni’s certainly not going to help the Lakers, currently No. 14 in the NBA, defensively. In the 2004-05 campaign with Phoenix, D’Antoni’s Suns surrendered 103.3 points per game to opponents, ranking No. 30 out of 30 in the NBA. In 2005-06, Phoenix gave up 102.8 points per game, No. 28 in the Association, and in 2006-07, that number climbed to 102.9 ppg, or No. 23 in the league. And this goes without mentioning the horrific 3+-year tenure D’Antoni had with the Knicks.
So is D’Antoni the right hire? The jury’s still out, obviously, but Lakers fans wanted Phil Jackson, whom Bresnahan is reporting was “asking for the moon,” according to sources close to the situation. To me, Jackson, or Jerry Sloan, hands down, would have been the better hire. But the beauty of sports is that only time will tell.
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