When Mike D’Antoni was hired as the Los Angeles Lakers next head coach, the internet asked a simple yet piercing question: are you serious?
Phil Jackson had the job. Mike D’Antoni was (and is) injured. How did this all happen? In the days since, various conjectures about Phil Jackson’s contract demands have muddled whatever the truth may be. We’ll probably never know, at least until there’s a book about it in 20 years time. The only valid question, or truth, really, is that question: are you serious?
This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. It was the most cliched of fairy tales, once promising team fails under new coach, old coach dusts off the clipboard and leads them to victory. And that’s how Mike D’Antoni, the other guy in this conversation, saw it all playing out too.
Here’s what he said to the New York Daily News:
“When I got the call that it was me, my first reaction was, ‘Are you serious?”
Mitch Kupchack was. He rattled off regular platitudes about a “great fit” and moving forward, but the enduring message was that Phil Jackson wasn’t any of these things. Or at least, not the best of these things. Considering his 11 NBA titles, five of which came with the Lakers, we suspect something else was going on. And so must D’Antoni, based on that reaction.
At least in a basketball sense, the hire shouldn’t surprise that many people. A Nash-Howard or Nash-Gasol pick and roll is deadly, especially with Kobe Bryant lurking on the wing for an open jumper or slash to the hoop. On the most basic level, D’Antoni will get the Lakers to share the ball as Brown did without neturalizing Steve Nash’s brilliance. Dwight Howard won’t be subjected to awkward forays on the block and Pau Gasol will play basketball freely – roaming and passing and rebounding and lurching as he does best. D’Antoni, it would seem, will be able to harness that offensive firepower by keeping everyone happy.
It’s just on the defensive end where the problems might arise once more. We don’t have to detail D’Antoni’s defensive failings here, but neither Mike Brown nor Phil Jackson nor Mike D’Antoni can retool the team’s perimeter defending. Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace are too old and slow to defend for extended minutes, and Gasol and Howard will be left to defend the rim by themselves. Orlando tried that same formula, and though it allowed Howard’s block total to skyrocket, it put him in constant foul trouble and shifted his role from off-ball help swat machine to on-ball rim protector – which is still a great role for Howard to play, just not when he’s the only line of defense.
Still: how in the hell did this all happen, anyway? You know, if Mitch Kupchak is serious and all.