Archives For Mike D’Antoni

http://youtu.be/UwWxBDmaeRg

Mike D’Antoni doesn’t have the best reputation amongst a large legion of Lakers’ fans. He’s the guy who captained last season’s championship caliber roster into the ground; the guy who took Phil Jackson’s rightful place on the sidelines. There’s shades of truth in those beliefs, though they’re also both woefully short of fully describing all the variables that factored into what was one of the more disappointing campaigns in recent memory.

For all of D’Antoni’s faults — both actual and perceived — one thing he is not is oblivious to the struggles last year’s team faced. In fact, in the video above, D’Antoni essentially owns up to many of the mistakes made last year — from trying to play too quickly, to miscasting Pau Gasol as a stretch forward, to relying too much on Nash’s eventual return as the trigger for a turnaround. At the time, as I’m sure he’d admit, there were valid reasons to believe those things would work. Hindsight, however, shows those decisions were faulty.

Heading into next season one can only hope D’Antoni has learned from some of his errors and finds ways to better utilize the roster he has on hand. The roster, of course, has been reshaped and some of the pieces better fit what he’s traditionally liked to do offensively. However, that doesn’t change the fact that he still must account for an aged Nash, a returning from injury Kobe, and a still-best-in-when-in-the-post-Pau Gasol. Finding the balance between his ideal offense and what talent he has on hand will be one of his bigger challenges this off-season.

And while the biggest story-lines are still ones associated with whether the team’s best players can return to form, the one that’s probably most important still revolves around the man calling the signals from the sidelines. Because regardless of how fans feel about him, he’s still the guy with the job and how far this team goes will depend on all the talent on the roster, including the talent of the head coach.

The 11th Man

Dave Murphy —  September 13, 2013

Mike D’Antoni went on the airwaves earlier this summer, theorizing about an 11-man Lakers rotation. On the one hand D’Antoni is as adverse to extended lineups as he is half-court basketball. Further, trying to speculate on what that rotation might look like, weeks before training camp even begins, is a sublimely ridiculous thing to do. Regardless, people need to read and people need to write and given that I haven’t posted here in ages, this exercise in futility seems strangely appropriate.

Few would have predicted the Lakers’ ground-zero meltdown last season. If it was bad it happened and that basically covers the bases. Health concerns will once again be front and center when it comes to planning and contingencies. Nobody can predict what Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash will bring to the table, coming off rehab. Nobody can predict what anyone will bring. All across the league, decision makers hope for the best, plan for the worst and roll the dice. Here at home, management has been signing wild cards left and right. It’s not the usual Lakers way and it won’t be the usual season. The rash of step deals at league minimum will allow for an extended evaluation period – guys will be playing like they mean it and they’ll also be playing for the opportunity to have a seat at the table for the great rebuild of 2014.

Here’s four key Lakers acquisition this summer and how they could play into Coach D’Antoni’s system.

Jordan Farmar presented something of a riddle for the Lakers during their first go-round. Drafted out of UCLA, the Los Angeles native was cocky, quick and a round peg in Phil Jackson’s triangle system. The fact that he played backup to Smush Parker that season provided some unintentional comedy relief. There were ample other opportunities to try Phil’s patience, including Kwame Brown, Vlad Rad and the rise of the Machine. It should be noted that Farmar replaced Smush in the starting lineup for the last two games of the regular season, as well as the playoffs. It was a summer of discontent for Kobe Bryant however and management responded in part by bringing Derek Fisher back. The move cemented Farmar’s position as a back-up. He won a couple rings but eventually left to free agency and the New Jersey Nets. Farmar most recently played for Turkey’s Anadolu Efes. He accepted the league minimum to return to Los Angeles, noting that the idea of playing for Coach D’Antoni played a major part in his decision. The guard-driven pick and roll system should be a good fit.

Nick Young has been the subject of a number of good articles. Dan Devine for Ball Don’t Lie summed up the free-wheeling guard succinctly:

“The cold reality of course, is that Nick Young will break your heart; Wizard fans know this all too well. He will shoot you out of games, he will disinterestedly defend you out of games, he will refuse to pass you out of games, he will lackadaisically not-box you out of games – he is an incredibly versatile player, lose-you-games-wise. But in those moments when the shot’s falling, when everybody’s clicking and his joy is irrepressible… he’s pure and unadulterated fun in a way that few NBA players are. There’s room for that. There has to be.”

Young’s natural position is at shooting guard but he’s reportedly penciled in at the starting small forward slot for the Lakers. Whether that comes to pass is anybody’s guess. The situation will be in a word, fluid. Coach D’Antoni will get a taste of what Flip Saunders and Doug Collins had to deal with in the past. Then again, Swaggy P can do this.

When it comes to cautionary tales and reclamation projects, Shawne Williams is a quintessential case. The former #17 Pacers draft pick hasn’t played since an abbreviated stint with the Nets during the 2010-11 season. He was subsequently traded to Portland and waived. Williams has been busted numerous times, lost an older brother to street violence and flamed out at nearly every NBA stop along the way. The 2010-11 season was an exception. As a combo forward for Mike D’Antoni and the New York Knicks, Williams provided tough defense and a consistent outside stroke. After helping limit LeBron James at a MSG Knicks win, Coach D’Antoni had this to say, “If you know Shawne’s background, I don’t think he’s going to be intimidated. That’s not going to be a problem. He’s coming at you, and I like that about him.” Coaches remember these moments and Williams will get a solid look this season, despite all the blown chances.

When I think of Chris Kaman, I always go back to his early years as a Clipper. The 2003 draft pick used to give Coach Mike Dunleavy (a man with a voluminous playbook), fits. The 7-foot center was prone to getting calls mixed up, or in his own words, “simply forgetting them in a matter of 10 seconds or less.” Part of the issue according to Kaman, was being misdiagnosed with ADHD as a young child. He took Ritalin for a number of years but in the summer of 2007, began working with a neuropsychologist, Dr. Tim Royer, channeling and slowing hyperactive brain patterns. Kaman became a consistent and indispensable asset to the team, getting an All-Star nod in 2010. Of course, athletes begin to break down with passing years. Kaman isn’t the player he once was but he’s still a big body, he’s experienced and hasn’t lost his mid-range jumper.

So what about Mike D’Antoni’s supposed 11-man rotation, the one that will spell much-needed relief for the creaky body parts of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash? As mentioned at the top, it’s a ridiculous hypothesis. Who could possibly know? But I promised one so health and circumstances permitting, here it is:

Starting lineup: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Nick Young, Jordan Hill, Pau Gasol.

Nash subs out, replaced by Jordan Farmar. Bryant subs out, replaced by Nick Young who slides back to his natural two-guard position. Shawne Williams enters at the small forward. Jordan Hill comes out and Chris Kaman comes in. The positional pairing of Kaman and Gasol is probably not that exact – they could easily switch the four/five on offensive/defensive sequences. At this point, Pau’s the main voice of reason on the floor, as well as a guy whose legs are getting tired.

We’re at eight players. What comes next? It’s not a leap of faith to assume that at some point, Swaggy P goes off the reservation, even in a Mike D’Antoni world. Enter Steve Blake, a guy who brings a modicum of stability and toughness. At  #10, my sleeper long-shot – Elias Harris. Yup, I said it. Granted he’s an undrafted rookie who may not even survive training camp. Harris is a classic role-player however, a guy who doesn’t mind the dirty work and who has impressed staff with his tenacity. Although undersized at 6-8 for the PF position, he weighs around 240 and has enough in his back pocket to move players in the paint. During his combine workouts however, Harris was well aware that NBA scouts would be evaluating him at the wing. Finally, Wesley Johnson is a former #4 overall pick and an athletic swingman who by sheer coincidence, will wear the number 11. Say no more.

At some point the summer passes and turns to the endless NBA grind. Ice baths and swollen ankles, dislocated fingers and gimpy knees. A coach looks down the bench and frowns. The choices aren’t as good as they were last week. They aren’t even as good as they were last night. He points a finger in an impossibly noisy arena. A player gets up, trying to work the stiffness out of his joints. In about 20 seconds he’ll have make a difference.

Based off the evidence accumulated over the course of their careers, I have full confidence in making two pretty declarative statements:

1. Mike D’Antoni would prefer to run an offense featuring a spread pick and roll attack that generates easy shots at the rim and open three pointers around the arc.

2. Dwight Howard excels in the pick and roll, is one of the best finishers at the rim in the entire NBA, and would love to get more touches close to the rim.

Based off these two statements, from a strict X’s and O’s perspective, the Mike D’Antoni offense and the Dwight Howard skill-set are perfect matches. The goal, then, should be to find a way to maximize what both want to do while both sides show enough flexibility in order to make this partnership work. And if both sides do just that, the results will be fantastic.

The bending from both sides is actually pretty simple and straight forward once the noise and bluster is stripped away.

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After The Gold Rush

Dave Murphy —  April 18, 2013

There’s an oft-used saying, ‘it’s a tough act to follow.’ You don’t want to be the band that takes the stage after the last band just totally shredded. Or the comedian that follows the guy who had them rolling in the aisles. Phil Jackson was a tough act to follow. Just ask Rudy T, ask Tim Floyd, ask Mike Brown.

Mike D’Antoni could have been the guy that simply followed Brown, they might have given him the keys to the city. But Jackson was back in the picture and for the most obvious of reasons – he was probably the best man for the job, having delivered great riches in the past. D’Antoni’s preferred system of basketball wasn’t suited for for the All-Star roster he inherited and it certainly wasn’t suited for a revolving door of injuries. A pretty rough season followed.

The Lakers lost another giant recently, someone whose greatness defined the team’s identity and direction. Kobe Bryant rounded the corner on Harrison Barnes and headed for Achilles surgery and a new found hobby of tweeting. Who knew?

Things can turn on a trifle as someone used to say. The loss of Bryant was both stunning and surreal and a couple hundred epic articles dropped over the next 24 hours and observers burped and patted each others backs and headed to the sink with the dishes, ready to rinse and wash and move on to the playoffs. In this particular narrative, non-Laker fans could afford to be magnanimous with their sympathy – you guys always have next year. Or not.

A funny thing happened at the tail end of the regular season. In the absence of certain giants and expectations, a team began to form their own ad hoc destiny. You can’t really label them bad news bears, not when fronted by Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. You also can’t pin the month of April on the loss of Kobe and some new found freedom. The Lakers went seven and one and five of those games saw Kobe playing insane minutes and carrying much of the load.

Sometimes, you just have to watch. One of Mike D’Antoni’s pet phrases is ‘letting the ball find the open man’. He has no ownership of the concept, it’s as old as the game itself, a guiding principal in the sport, sometimes honored and often ignored. Over the last two games, the ball has found new movement out of necessity. Guys are getting touches they didn’t get before. And who would have guessed that Andrew Goudelock would get a call-up and join Darius Morris on the floor during pivotal minutes in a seed-defining win?

It’s not simply the loss of Kobe that has caused a change in the team’s philosophy. Steve Nash has been out of action and may suit up on Sunday against the Spurs, depending on the results from two recent epidurals. Will his return put a damper on Steve Blake’s resurgent play? There are no simple answers.

To say it has been a season of adjustment is saying just a little. There have been recent moments that show an interesting unity however. A time out and coaches interact with their players. Dwight’s chatting with Bernie Bickerstaff, Chuck Person makes a point with Metta World Peace. D’Antoni calls the guys to gather and they’re paying attention. A group that has seen little time together on the floor goes back out there and gets some stops. Games are won ugly but they’re won. And the Lakers are in the playoffs with the seventh seed and if nothing else they’ve earned the right to keep playing.

Spring is regarded as a time of renewal and hope. It’s not always pretty, it follows in the barren footsteps of winter after all. The NBA season is too long for the health of its players. It affects all teams and the San Antonio Spurs will be heading into the first round with issues of their own. For the Los Angeles Lakers, it’s a transitional era in ways that are sometimes willfully ignored. Their earth has been mined and harvested, it is in need of replenishment and the new CBA has thrown a few obstacles into the mix. It’s not to say you can’t use your remaining assets though or that you can’t use them well.

The past, present and future of the Lakers has coalesced for the moment – it may not be the most stable of circumstances but there is at least some acceptance – from a head coach willing to let his team play to its strengths to a team willing to share, no longer bound to a singular voice. The expectations game will be back in the summer, one way or another. For at least this moment however, it’s simply the game of basketball.

I’ve long struggled with the idea of “crunch time”. At times I’ve felt the definition used to describe this part of the game — the last 5 minutes of a game with a margin of 5 points or fewer — is a bit arbitrary. This feeling is compounded by the fact that I’m a firm believer that all parts of the game are important. A contest can be lost in the first quarter by surrendering a big lead through sloppy defense and turnover prone offense as much as it can be lost at the end of the game through the same type of poor play.

That said, it can not be ignored that the end of a close game feels different and, thus, creates a different environment in which the players compete. Defense tightens up and offensive players have a more difficult time scoring in general. The seconds seem to tick down slower and every possession takes on a greater importance. This often leads to the types of pressure packed plays that either build or destroy legends. Bring up the words “clutch” “Michael Jordan” and “Nick Anderson” in the same sentence and someone will surely say the word “choke” within a fraction of a second.

As fans we too take this part of the game more seriously and tend to heap praises on the heroes who can summon the skill needed to thrive at this time of the game. Forget analysis in the closing seconds, we love a guy hitting the big shot and then screaming at the top of our lungs in celebration. These are the most memorable moments.

The problem is, though, is that it’s never smart to forget the analysis. It’s better to know what actually happened and how a team got to the point where it made (or missed) those final shots that we think decided the game. It’s better to know what trends to expect from a team or player at any part of the game, but especially one that’s close late. This makes us better fans, even if in the moment most of us — or at least those of us with rooting interests — only really care if the shot falls or not.

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