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Reuniting D'Antoni with Nash a wise move for Lakers

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Mitch Ward, TSN.ca
11/12/2012 2:37:34 PM
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What a wild first two weeks in Los Angeles. Few could have predicted things would go sideways so quickly for the Lakers after the way they loaded up this summer.

First there was the slow start, then there was the knee-jerk firing and now we have a surprise hiring.

The long and short of it is that Mike Brown is out and Mike D'Antoni is in as head coach of the Lakers.

While I had my doubts that Mike Brown was the right coach for the Lakers, the way the Lakers handled his firing was questionable at best. To say someone is your guy going into the season and then to turn around and fire him after such a small sample size without really giving him a chance to succeed comes across as the worst kind of double-talk.

If you had doubts about Brown's coaching philosophy and desire to implement a Princeton offence in the off-season, make your move then. Don't let him implement his systems only to get rid of him after five games.

That said, I love the D'Antoni hiring. 

I might even like it more than I would have liked a Phil Jackson return.

That's not because the triangle offence wouldn't have worked well with this team as some people are saying. It absolutely could have worked.

Phil Jackson has NBA rings for each finger and a few to spare. His reputation speaks for itself.

The Zen Master came at a much steeper price though. Besides commanding a hefty salary, Jackson apparently also wanted a lot of say in the team's basketball operations and an ownership stake. Jerry Buss clearly wasn't willing to make those concessions.

For this Lakers team that might not be a bad thing as D'Antoni is a terrific fit.

Why?

Unlike in New York, D'Antoni has the guys to make his system work in L.A., and that starts with Steve Nash. D'Antoni's career winning percentage with Nash in his lineup is .733, without him it's .385.

Players make a system work and Nash-D'Antoni is a match made in offensive basketball heaven. Their brand of up-tempo basketball in Phoenix was as fun to watch as it was effective. That is to say, very - from 2004-2008 the Suns led the NBA in offensive efficiency.

A hallmark of the fun and gun Suns was the pick and roll. With Nash, the Lakers have potentially the best pick and roll point guard in the league, as well as Dwight Howard, the NBA's best roll man over the last few years.

Besides Nash and Howard in the pick and roll, Kobe Bryant should slide in perfectly on the weak side in this system. Nash will be able to get Kobe plenty of open looks and the isos he loves by dishing him the ball. In other words, Kobe will be able to "get his" under D'Antoni. He will also help spread the floor for Nash and Howard as no coach in their right mind would tell their player to sag off Kobe and help defend the pick and roll.

Pau Gasol can knock down mid-range jumpers and provide a different wrinkle in the pick and roll for the Lakers with his high IQ and terrific passing. Even Metta World Peace will benefit from D'Antoni's simplified system with open looks from the corner. He'll have two jobs - shoot if open, pass if not.

It won't be an exact replica of D'Antoni's time in Phoenix as this team is obviously older, bigger and a bit slower. There may not be as many lightning fast break outs for dunks, but in the half-court the Lakers should be just as successful with Nash running things and executing the type of quick-hitting plays favoured by the Suns.

The one thing the Lakers could really use now is a few more good outside shooters to help spread the floor. Inquiries will be made for some veteran help in that department and I could even see a guy like rookie Darius Johnson-Odom being recalled from the D-league at some point to come off the bench and launch threes. Still, this shouldn't be a major issue.

On the other side of the ball, D'Antoni is often unfairly tagged as a lousy defensive coach. He might not be great, but he certainly isn't terrible.

The Suns allowed a lot of points, but those numbers were always going to be high because of the team's up-tempo style. His Suns' teams actually finished in the middle of the pack in terms of overall defensive efficiency quite consistently.

And that was with Amar'e Stoudemire as his primary interior stopper. Howard is a far better defensive player than Stoudemire ever was or will be.

The Suns simply weren't as bad as people seem to remember and the Lakers won't be terrible under his guidance either. In fact, as a whole, the Lakers starting five are a far better defensive unit than any the Suns ever put on the floor under D'Antoni and should be better.

Moving past the X's and O's, D'Antoni also has a positive rapport with the Lakers' stars. From his perspective, this decision had to be a no-brainer. When negotiations with Jackson broke down and the Lakers offered him the job he probably couldn't have signed fast enough.

This is clearly the most talented team he has coached in his life. He now has a chance to ditch his reputation as a great regular season coach who comes up short in the playoffs.

The chase for a championship in L.A. is back on the rails.

Mike D'Antoni (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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