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Mike D’Antoni a better long-term choice than Phil Jackson

Nov 12, 2012, 2:44 PM EST

New York Knicks v Washington Wizards Getty Images

It was certainly a surprise when the news broke late Sunday night that Mike D’Antoni had been hired by the Lakers as their new head coach. The job was believed to be Phil Jackson’s if he wanted it, while a second meeting between Jackson and the Lakers appeared to be in the works, perhaps to finalize all of the details.

But something changed within the Lakers organization, and changed quickly. Whether it was too many demands from Jackson to return — which may have included a request for an ownership stake in the team, as well as the ability to pick and choose which road games he’d travel for — or something else, the team abruptly shifted its paradigm.

While Jackson may have been the popular choice and the one that fans were clamoring for, D’Antoni is the smarter one. The fact is that D’Antoni is a better fit for the long-term plans of the franchise than Jackson would have been, for a variety of reasons.

It’s easy to understand why everyone in L.A. would want Jackson back on the bench. Five championships won with Kobe Bryant for starters, along with a veteran pedigree and vast knowledge of the inner-workings of the Lakers family-run organizational dynamic seemed to make him a logical choice.

But for how long?

This is the problem, and it’s why the Lakers ultimately went with someone else.

For all of Jackson’s successes, let’s not gloss over his failures. When we last saw him roaming the Lakers sidelines, Jackson seemed to lack the necessary passion to get his team to play at the required level in the 2011 playoffs. Dallas swept a Lakers team out of the second round that was favored to win a third straight championship, and did so in fairly humiliating fashion.

The issue with that team, evident to anyone, was its sense of entitlement. Two straight titles had brought an unhealthy mentality that the Lakers would somehow find a way to win games without expending the necessary effort, simply because it had the most talented roster.

Sound like something that might have happened this year, with this team?

Even if Jackson had been able to coach this team to a title, there’s no guarantee he’d stick around to do it again next year. Reports had him wanting to mentor a young coach to hand the team over to after he was done, which may have been Brian Shaw, Scottie Pippen, or someone else.

If that was the case (and another demand in the negotiation process that may have made the organization sour on the idea), there’s no guarantee that Dwight Howard — remember, an unrestricted free agent this summer — would want to go through another coaching change, especially if he was fortunate enough to have already won that ring.

There’s all the talk about the extra millions Howard is eligible for under the collective bargaining agreement if he re-signs in L.A., but for a player with over $100 million in career earnings who might have gotten the career validation that comes with a title, it would be easy to see him choosing somewhere else to play the remainder of his years. That would essentially place the Lakers in a full-fledged rebuilding mode with an aging or perhaps already-retired Kobe Bryant, and would do so with an inexperienced head coach in charge.

Now obviously, that’s a whole lot of future speculation for a team that’s really only focused on winning this season. But there’s no guarantee that would have happened, despite Jackson’s resume.

Mike D’Antoni has relationships with Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant, and won’t over-complicate the offense. On the defensive end, it’ll be amazing how quickly his reputation there will magically improve with Howard patrolling the paint.

Most importantly, the Lakers get a head coach who’s hungry for a championship, and in it for more than just this season. The same couldn’t possibly have been said with any certainty when considering Phil Jackson.

  1. ckinthekc99 - Nov 12, 2012 at 8:57 PM

    Michael Jordan never won a ring without Jackson either. ALL THAT MATTERS IS DANTONI > MIKE BROWN, and all the haters are more worried now than they were a week ago

  2. oddte - Nov 12, 2012 at 11:13 PM

    All the media seems terrified to say what real NBA fans know, the Lakers have no shot at a title with D’Antoni. Any attempt to pretend this is a better hire than PJ is either dishonest or delusional.

  3. savvybynature - Nov 13, 2012 at 12:10 AM

    While I respect the opinion that DÁntoni is a better long term plan than Jackson (though that depends on if D12 resigns), I think all the the talk of who is a “better fit” misses the forest for the trees.

    PJ is an all-time great coach. D’Antoni right now is not in that rare air. LeBron wasn’t a great fit with Wade many felt, but he was the best player on the planet so it didn’t matter. You always want the best on your team.

    D’Antoni’s system may be a better fit, but the system has to be more of a better fit than Jackson is a better coach, or it’s still a net loss. It’s not a shot at D’Antoni, but Jackson commands ultimate respect with 11 rings, guys would be excited to play for him and not want to let him down, and he has the patience and experience to deal with the egos and the spotlight while keeping the long-term good of the team first.

    You may get that from D’Antoni, but you know you could get it from Phil.

  4. davidly - Nov 13, 2012 at 7:24 AM

    This article is doubly off the mark: In the long term Phil Jackson just might have been able to sculpt a team that would win further into the future. He was willing to transition a new coach into the system as a trade off for a more stable position within the organization.

    The current Lakers management clearly has a problem, to which the mere hiring of a new coach is not the solution–especially not long term. Now they will never know whether Jackson would have been as successful choosing players and hiring staff as he was a coach.

    It’s both of their losses, but for LA, especially in the long term. They weren’t gonna win this year either way.

  5. chicagofan - Nov 13, 2012 at 8:21 AM

    D’Antoni sucked in NY and Phoenix and will suck in LA. They will not win the West this yr because of this move and even Mike Brown is a better coach than him . Fire Kupchak if they don’t make it to the Western Conf Finals..

  6. chicagofan - Nov 13, 2012 at 8:23 AM

    This is like putting George W Bush back in charge of the most powerful army in the world and expecting him not to screw it up. Mission accomplished Kupchak!

  7. omniusprime - Nov 13, 2012 at 9:05 AM

    What an idiot Brett Pollakoff is for writing this rubbish about that idiot D’Antoni. D’Antoni never won a damned thing with his premature ejaculation offense. Plus the most ignorant thing you could have said was to talk about D’Antoni and defense, he has no clue what defense is. His Suns squad underperformed for the talent it had, he should have won against the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals a few years ago but took a superior team into that series and lost. His term with the Knicks was a total joke, only now are the Knicks looking respectable.

    D’Antoni has no long term prospects if he does not win a championship this year, something that would be a certainty if Phil Jackson coached the team. You are totally wrong if you think that Phil wouldn’t guide the Lakers to two more titles in his two year deal. So Bonehead Brett ready to guarantee that D’Antoni guides the Lakers to the Promised Land now so he has a long term prospect with the team? Didn’t think so.

    • mazblast - Nov 16, 2012 at 3:05 PM

      You are totally wrong if you think that Phil wouldn’t guide the Lakers to two more titles in his two year deal.
      ——————————————————-
      You mean like the title he guided the Lakers to in 2011?

  8. tbd3 - Nov 13, 2012 at 11:03 AM

    A long term coach for a short term team? It might make sense in theory that D’Antoni is better long term, but this article is fundamentally wrong. Look at this team – Kobe is 34, Pau is 32, Nash 38, Metta World Peace is 33 (happy birthday, by the way). This team was not built for the long term, so how does it make sense to base your coaching decision on the long term?

    “…there’s no guarantee that Dwight Howard — remember, an unrestricted free agent this summer — would want to go through another coaching change…”

    So he will leave and go to a completely new team in a new city with new teammates and a new coach, just to avoid a new coach in Los Angeles? A new coach that has been purposefully mentored by the former coach and was already in the organization? Did you not realize how little sense this made while writing it?

    D’Antoni has never proven that he can win without Nash (232-96 with Nash, 156-243 without him). He won Coach of the Year in 2004-05, which just happened to be — you guessed it — his first year with Nash! The year before that he coached the Suns for 61 games and went 21-40. The next year, after Nash’s return to Phoenix, the Suns won 62 games under D’Antoni. Let’s look at the top players on those teams in terms of minutes:

    2003-04:
    Shawn Marion
    Joe Johnson
    Amare Stoudemire
    Stephon Marbury
    Leandro Barbosa
    Casey Jacobsen

    2004-05:
    Amare Stoudemire
    Shawn Marion
    Joe Johnson
    Quentin Richardson
    Steve Nash
    Leandro Barbosa

    So add Steve Nash and replace a 26 year old Stephon Marbury with a 24 year old Quentin Richardson, and D’Antoni’s winning percentage improves by over 40%. He couldn’t win with a core of Marion-Stoudemire-Johnson, but once Nash was added into the mix, all maladies were cured.

    Fast forward to 2008-09. D’Antoni is know the head coach of the Knicks. The Knicks are pretty terrible, they won only 23 games the year before. Under D’Antoni, they notch 32 wins. They go down to 29 the next season despite Danilo Gallinari showing promise, Wilson Chandler gaining experience, and Al Harrington averaging over 20 points per 36 minutes. Add former Sun Stoudemire and 27 games of Carmelo Anthony, and the Knicks finally break .500 under D’Antoni. In 2011-12, the Knicks finally have a full season of Carmelo and add Tyson Chandler, but the first 42 games are a disappointment as D’Antoni’s team only wins 18 games.

    Now, how has D’Antoni proven that he can win without Nash? Even with legitimate All-Stars in Anthony and Stoudemire playing together, his teams struggled to win. Add Defensive Player of the Year, Tyson Chandler? Still struggle to win. After D’Antoni gets fired from the Knicks mid-season, Mike Woodson goes on to the same number of wins in 18 fewer games (thanks in large part to the emergence of Jeremy Lin, but there was more to it than that).

    All of this is not even to mention his defensive record. To be fair, let’s look at only his full seasons of coaching. These are how his teams ranked in Basketball-Reference’s “Defensive Rating”:

    2004-05 Phoenix – 16th
    2005-06 Phoenix – 15th
    2006-07 Phoenix – 13th
    2007-08 Phoenix – 16th
    2008-09 New York – 23rd
    2009-10 New York – 26th
    2010-11 New York – 21st

    So with a very athletic team in Phoenix, his defense was never better than 13th best in the league. It was exceedingly average. In New York, it was abysmal. The perception is that Suns were awful defensively because people misinterpret the raw numbers due to their pace. The facts show that they were a middle-of-the-pack defensive bunch. Lakers fans probably find that comforting. That, in and of itself, should be troubling. Now D’Antoni has Dwight Howard and Gasol down low and Metta World Peace on the wing. It’s reasonable to assume that he could put a pretty good defensive team out there. But that will be by virtue of his personnel, and may even happen in spite of him.

    The D’Antoni might make sense right now, while the Lakers have Nash and while they have excellent size down low and very good defensive players, but to say it is good for the long term? That’s bogus. This hiring is good as long as Nash is there and no longer. D’Antoni has never shown he can coach a top team in this league without Nash running things.

  9. abchome - Nov 13, 2012 at 5:15 PM

    Maybe. But the Lakers obviously doesn’t have a long term roster and need to win now.

  10. mazblast - Nov 16, 2012 at 3:13 PM

    D’Antoni a better pick than Jackson? Wow, that’s revisionism at its finest–“They chose D’Antoni, THEREFORE he’s the better pick.”

    And I say this as someone who likes D’Antoni and has never liked Jackson.

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