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I’ve noticed, due to the disappointment of this 2012/13 season, that Mike D’Antoni has drawn serious criticism. D’Antoni deserves criticism, but not to the extent that many Laker fans think. D’Antoni’s criticism is based more on hyperbole and characterizations of his coaching style. I acknowledge that some criticisms are legit, but my point here is to rebut the lazy criticisms that dominate social media and sports shows.
1) “Mike Brown did not get a chance”
Mike Brown should have NEVER been a coach for the Lakers. Rick Adelman, Brian Shaw, and Mark Jackson were far better options. Also, Mike Brown is incapable of making adjustments and lacks creativity with his rotations. Popovich taught him – but the apple didn’t fall close to the tree. It rolled down a hill and strayed far away – very far away. D’Antoni is easily a superior coach – but that’s not saying much.
2) D’Antoni is not a defensive-centered coach = bad Lakers defense
This is totally based on his reputation. Lakers in the past 15 games have been a top 10-15 defensive efficiency (13th overall). The catalysts: the emergence of Earl Clark and players deciding to truly commit to winning not just touches. Interestingly, Phil Jackson is known for the triangle OFFENSE – not his defensive principles. Phil Jackson is also an offensive-centered coach, Kobe even pointed out that the Lakers only had 3 defensive drills. There are defensive-centered and offensive-centered coaches, so it’s a bit silly to attack D’Antoni for being offensive-centered. More to the point, as the Lakers have gotten healthier (though Pau is injured), the team overall has performed better (i.e. Sacre and Jamison are not a great rim protection frontline). It’s time we acknowledge the Laker’s improvements under D’Antoni.
3) “Phil Jackson would be better right now”
I wouldn’t have an issue with this statement if it was 2005 or 1999 and if the year 2011 never occurred. This roster (aside from Kobe and Pau) does not suit the triangle offense. D’Antoni’s offense may actually be a better fit due to its simplicity and the fact that the new NBA era caters to his offensive philosophy (i.e. Miami Heat). Also, who knows if Dwight Howard’s self esteem would be able to endure the mental challenges Phil Jackson gives players. Third, D’Antoni does not have the resume of Phil Jackson – no argument here – but this article is about NOW. 2011 revealed Phil’s inability to motivate players the way he used to. Just as legendary players decline in their careers, so do coaches. We don’t know what Phil Jackson would’ve done. Furthermore, no coach can stop injuries.
4) “D’Antoni has a bad history”
Those Suns teams did not lose because of bad coaching nor did his Knick teams. There were clear personnel flaws. Example: Suns lacked an interior defender – Amare cannot defend Duncan, no matter the coach. The Alvin Gentry Suns teams beat a Spurs team on the decline in 2010 still using D’Antoni’s philosophy. While, the Knicks have made significant roster improvements (the pre-Melo Knicks of 2011 were doing well with Amare at the helm) but I’ll let the 2013 NBA playoffs tell that story. Also, if Amare was not suspended in 2007 – as some have argued – those Suns teams would have made the finals. Also, lest we forget – Nash’s BEST YEARS were under D’Antoni. Felton, Lin and even Steve Blake have shown improvement under D’Antoni. He has good accomplishments – but not legendary ones. D’Antoni has something to prove – without question. He has to coach a team to a championship victory eventually. I don’t think it will happen this season due to the circumstances, but I think he’s good enough to coach this team to a finals victory.
5) “D’Antoni alienated and humiliated Pau Gasol”
First, let’s not forget that Earl Clark has been more productive and a better fit – alongside Howard. I like the D’Antoni hire because I knew he’d realize Gasol/D12 were not a great fit together on offense NOR defense. Pau Gasol – as a 5 – has a great skillset for D’Antoni’s offense – so he’s actually used Gasol properly. Gasol can now get inside touches and exploit his nice elbow jumper in pick ‘n’ pop scenarios. So it’s no surprise that Gasol is statistically better when separated from Dwight Howard. Third, As for ‘humilating’ Pau for the benching: A wise man named Jeff Van Gundy said if Ginolbi can come off the bench – so can Pau Gasol. In fact, Gasol has played better off the bench and, in turn, our bench has been more productive. In addition, you can argue that the minute reduction has helped Pau in maintaining his energy and focus. Hopefully Pau can come back in time. We need his bench production to make the playoffs.
6) “D’Antoni misuses D12”
Kevin Arnovitz argued, on the ‘The Forum’ that P&R is better for Dwight Howard – not posting up. Stan Van Gundy – who is definitely a good coach – used side pick and roll and surrounded Dwight with 4 snipers. Arnovitz observed that P&R worked for Dwight Howard and that Dwight needs to set the proper screens. Lakers have a dynamic backcourt, 3.5 snipers (Nash, Kobe, Clark and sometimes Metta), and a legendary P&R point guard in Steve Nash. So Dwight was in the wrong demanding for more post touches and D’Antoni should be penalized for illogical complaints by players who won’t take accountability for their mistakes. The problem has been Howard’s poor screens which can be attributed to his health issues. Now that Howard is setting proper screens and iron-manning through his shoulder injury, we’re starting to see the deadly Nash/D12 P&R.
The issues I have with the D’Antoni hire: (1) timing – Mike Brown should’ve been fired after OKC loss; (2) D’Antoni’s timeouts – takes too long, but I’ve seen improvements in the past 5-8 games, but still it is a sore spot. (3) It’s been a chaotic situation which is improving – but not at the pace I would like.
However, I love his adjustments and rotations – which Brown was not giving the Lakers. My favourite is the Pau Gasol benching and how he slowly kept Howard and Gasol apart, showing how efficient it was, and then capitalizing on the emergence of Earl Clark which ultimately led to Pau’s benching. The best part is – he did it despite the criticism of delusional Pau apologists. A close second – Steve Blake is actually productive under D’Antoni – which is shocking to me (I’m a big Steve Blake critic).
Give him a full-training camp and a healthy Lakers team we’re a top 4 team in the West easily.
Again, he’s not a legendary coach, but he is a good coach. In my opinion, D’Antoni is a 7/10 right now.