When Mike Brown was fired after less than 5 games into a winless 2012 for the Los Angeles Lakers it took almost no time at all for the basketball world to make the connection to Phil Jackson, who is presumably growing a beard in his yurt in the high plains of Dakota, waiting for a psychic message that it was time to return to LA. When Mike D’Antoni was announced everyone, including Jackson, was surprised but D’Antoni could have finally found a team that can run his system and defend.
- Steve Nash
Everyone knows this is Kobe Bryant‘s team, but he’s not the most important piece to the puzzle this time around. Steven Nash has run Mike D’Antoni’s system to perfection and was an MVP of the league, twice, as a point guard. Nash isn’t the same player that won MVP, but it’s the perfect system for him to run and there are better players around him than he’s ever had.
- Dwight Howard
We are talking about a three time NBA Defensive Player of the Year and someone who will probably lead the league in rebounds (again). He’s a unique piece to this puzzle because of his athletic ability on both ends of the floor. Dwight Howard can run the floor on the break and is unbelievably athletic for someone of his size. His detractors, including Shaquille O’Neal who thinks that Brook (or was it Robin) Lopez are better “true centers”, Dwight may not play with his back to the basket like Shaq, Hakeem, Ewing, or even George Mikan, but the league is different now. Shaq just doesn’t like Howard, and I’m sure Howard would love to shut him up and get a statue in the process.
- Kobe Bryant
Kobe’s another year older, probably regrets being such a jerk to Phil Jackson because he got partnered with Mike Brown, and wants another ring. Kobe’s bad knee might mean that he could accept a role where he spots on the perimeter when Nash & Howard run the pick & roll or getting to the basket for Nash to dish. There are plenty of shots to go around in D’Antoni’s system and if Kobe is putting up numbers and winning there aren’t going to be any problems for the Mamba. Plus this is another chance for Kobe to show Shaq and Phil Jackson that he doesn’t need them to win an NBA Championship.
- Phil Jackson
Apparently he wanted more control of “basketball decisions”, ownership stake in the team, and a brandy snifter full of brown M&M’s. Entitled attitudes don’t win championships. Plus there is bad blood between him and Bryant. This doesn’t feel right. Especially for Jim Buss to hire someone who won under his father’s ownership and wanted to be level with the him in the organization. Who’s the Boss was terrible, this situation sounds more toxic than heartwarming and funny. Hire Tony Danza for something. Anything. Please.
- The ball
There’s only one ball, always gets thrown around any time there’s talk of bringing in another star player to play alongside Kobe Bryant. True there’s only one ball, and Kobe won’t see as much of the ball with Nash running the point but his PPG could stay the same even if Kobe doesn’t his usually ridiculous helping of attempts.
Before you tell me that D’Antoni doesn’t like defense, doesn’t focus on defense, would rather just get the ball back etc. tell me, who was Mike D’Antoni’s best defender in Phoenix? If you said Boris Diaw, Steve Nash, Joe Johnson, or Amare Stoudemire you may have never actually seen defense being played. You get a point if you said Raja Bell, role player with limited minutes or John “Hot Rod” Williams, who wasn’t even on the team but did play some D. Lakers don’t just have better defenders, they have players who have won defensive player of the year awards, Ron Artest & Dwight Howard, not to mention Kobe Bryant with 9 NBA All-Defensive First Team appearances, Suns never had players with Howard or Gasol’s length or rebounding ability.
Of course there are about a million ways this could all go wrong too, but aside from injuries the most important thing is that players buy into D’Antoni. Don’t even bother about Mike Brown, he was never going to work out in LA, just like he didn’t work out in Cleveland. He’s an assistant coach and a good example of the “Peter Principle.” It’s unsaid a lot of times, but players are better motivated when coaches get fired because it’s motivation to show that they were never the problem. Former Supersonics coach Bernie Bickerstaff is another good example of this. Sustaining that initial success is going to require the players to trust and really buy into D’Antoni’s system.