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Note to GMs: Mike D’Antoni can be a good hire — if you commit to giving him his roster

May 1, 2014, 5:35 PM EDT

Sacramento Kings v Los Angeles Lakers Getty Images

The mistake the Lakers made with Mike D’Antoni was hiring him in the first place.

Jim and Jerry Buss — the hiring was one of the last things the late, great Lakers owner consulted on — have longed for a return to “Showtime” when winning and entertainment went hand-in-hand. They won titles with Phil Jackson, but it wasn’t the same. They saw D’Antoni as a potential path back to the best of both worlds, back to the best of times.

Instead, the Lakers got the worst of times.

However, there is a lesson in what the Lakers did wrong, and before them what the Knicks did wrong with D’Antoni, one that can help future teams thinking of hiring him as their coach:

Mike D’Antoni can win in this league as a coach — but you have to FULLY commit to building his kind of team.

The Lakers were never a good fit. First, D’Antoni was hired 10-games into a season where he was a 180 degree spin from Mike Brown, yet he had no training camp to figure things out. Pau Gasol is not a stretch four who wants to run to the arc in transition, he’s a skilled post player. Kobe Bryant circa 2004 would have been brilliant in a D’Antoni system, but the 2014 Kobe is a post/elbow player who needs to operate in a slowed down half-court system to thrive. Steve Nash’s mind is willing but his flesh is weak.

Then there is Dwight Howard — he could be a great fit as a D’Antoni big man, because he is quick and fantastic as the roll man. Dwight Howard chooses not to be. He demands the ball in the post. In a D’Antoni system where “the ball needs energy” and has to move Howard causes it to stick and the offense to stall.

Add into this that dynamic that D’Antoni is simply not a good communicator with his players and it all collapsed. (As for the 2015 Lakers, D’Antoni did as much as anyone could have with that injury-riddled, odd-fitting roster. No coach dead or alive could have made the playoffs with that group.)

What happened in Los Angeles was an accelerated version of what happened to D’Antoni in New York — they hired him to save the franchise, then after missing out on LeBron James they brought in Amar’e Stoudemire and paired him with Raymond Felton as the point guard and Danilo Gallinari as a stretch four… and it worked okay. The Knicks were improved, entertaining and on their way to being a playoff team.

Then James Dolan gutted the roster of athletes to bring in the ball stopper that is Carmelo Anthony. Everything fell apart (save for a couple weeks of Linsanity when Anthony was out injured). D’Antoni was doomed as a future coach.

Mike D’Antoni is not flexible — team’s can’t bring him in and expect him to dramatically modify what he does to fit the pieces they already have. D’Antoni needs to win his way, to prove that what he does works and works well.

And it does work. Despite what some Lakers and Knicks fans think.Phoenix was not a fluke. Watch the Miami Heat play and you see a whole lot of D’Antoni offense. None other than Gregg Popovich admits stealing things from D’Antoni. Those teams do some things differently (a focus on defense is higher on the priority list, for one) but they are indebted to D’Antoni.

Eventually some other team is going to give D’Antoni a shot (the NBA is all about recycling coaches). That’s fine. Someone should give him a real shot.

But if you hire him just know what you are getting.

And give him HIS roster.

  1. asimonetti88 - May 1, 2014 at 6:03 PM

    “Mike D’Antoni is not flexible — team’s can’t bring him in and expect him to dramatically modify what he does to fit the pieces they already have. D’Antoni needs to win his way, to prove that what he does works and works well.”

    And that’s a major flaw of him. Good coaches are flexible. D’Antoni allowed the Lakers to move out of his system a bit at the end of last year, and to no one’s surprise, they won a lot of games and actually were able to make the playoffs. This year, his arrogance got the better of him, and his inability to be flexible hurt the Lakers. Even if the Lakers’ roster was bad this year (and it was) he did not do anything at all to help.

  2. beach305 - May 1, 2014 at 6:33 PM

    The best coaches learn to adapt in any sport.

  3. marcusfitzhugh - May 1, 2014 at 6:35 PM

    The article says
    ” D’Antoni is simply not a good communicator with his players”

    So he’s a good coach, but it’s got to be with the right players, preferably players he doesn’t have to communicate with. Is there an NBA club whose players don’t require any communication? Preferably one with a stretch 4?

    • Nadeem - May 2, 2014 at 6:15 AM

      Additionally, they should also play his system. A player that does not require communication and has plays in half court sets is not welcome.

      • Nadeem - May 2, 2014 at 6:16 AM

        Additionally, they should also play his system. A player that does not require communication and needs* to play in half court sets is not welcome.

  4. vols84 - May 1, 2014 at 6:41 PM

    And if your organization doesn’t covet defense

  5. brookwell2013 - May 1, 2014 at 7:03 PM

    D’Antoni has proved repeatedly he can not win a championship. He flat out doesn’t have what it takes to coach a championship team at an elite level. His record proves this. Worse, he puts palyers in his doghouse. He’s done that with every single team he has coached. If he gets hired again in the NBA he’ll repeat the pattern…..no championship and problems with his players.

  6. iammr713 - May 1, 2014 at 8:06 PM

    Miami & San Antoni may do run some of D’Antoni’s Offense but their Coaches also teach their players the Defensive system as well. D’Antoni thinks he can outscore teams like he did when he Coached The Suns & you can’t. That’s one reason Phoenix never made it to the Finals, not being taught Defense. How can you teach a team your Offensive System but not your Defensive System?

    • urodaddy07 - May 1, 2014 at 10:53 PM

      He doesn’t have a defensive system

    • campcouch - May 2, 2014 at 4:17 AM

      ah,but does that excuse players from playing any kind of defense. the game isn’t as complex as people make it out to be. you score and try to prevent the other guy from scoring.

      • unxpexted1 - May 2, 2014 at 9:16 AM

        There were actually players that said out of Phoenix that he would rather another team score and keep the energy flowing then be stagnant trying to stop the other team. He’s all about flow and energy and playing good defense prevents said flow.

      • urodaddy07 - May 3, 2014 at 8:54 PM

        You don’t play defence you sit on the bench. But D didn’t matter to D’Antoni, so there was no consequence for lack of effort on D. It’s not like LA had superstars you could not do without on the court. The coach has to insist that players play D.

  7. phillyphil005 - May 1, 2014 at 9:20 PM

    D’antoni had a good run with a Phoenix team that played a run and gun style of basketball. It worked incredibly well besides the playoffs, where they were exposed. After that, he was figured out, and he will never inherit a hall of fame point guard and dominant power forward tandem like that again, so to summarize…D’antoni got lucky, and was not anywhere close to a good coach in the years since he left that Phoenix team.

  8. fnc111 - May 1, 2014 at 11:03 PM

    Hoping he heads back to PHX if Hornacek takes the Jazz job.

  9. hoodheisman - May 1, 2014 at 11:13 PM

    Note to GMs – Donald Sterling can be a good owner – if you commit to not listening to anything he says

    • Nadeem - May 2, 2014 at 6:46 AM

      And are OK with fighting in courts to recover your contractual salary.

  10. socalgal64 - May 2, 2014 at 12:48 AM

    Did I miss 2015?
    As for the 2015 Lakers, D’Antoni did as much as anyone could have with that injury-riddled, odd-fitting roster. No coach dead or alive could have made the playoffs with that group.

    • mytthor - May 3, 2014 at 4:38 AM

      No, it’s called a typo. Go take a nap.

  11. kanemoney - May 2, 2014 at 2:01 AM

    He could take a team like Denver or Golden State to the second round of the playoffs, but no further.

    He is ideal for an owner who doesn’t want to hit the luxury tax and needs to maximize a roster full of extremely athletic, young talent.

    He just needs about 8 really strong players, as he tends to play tight rotations with 40+ minutes for most starters.

    He won’t win you any rings, but he can put people in stands and get you to the playoffs.

    Lastly, I’d recommend an Eastern Conference team… much lower bar for getting into the playoffs.

  12. polarbearsquares - May 2, 2014 at 7:23 AM

    Phoenix was not a fluke. But his failures in New York and L.A. were … wait for it … everybody else’s fault. Ok.

    Just going to throw this out there. If you can only win one way, with your type of roster and you’re inflexible and can’t make adjustments on the fly … perhaps … maybe … you’re not as good of a coach as you think you are.

    I don’t know why PBT is so invested in blaming D’Antoni’s failures on everybody but him. Its the GMs fault. Its Carmelo’s fault. It’s Dwight’s fault. Too many injuries. The fans are just delusional.

    It may not be fair to ask D’Antoni to win with rosters he’s not comfortable with. But is it really fair for an owner or GM to watch his franchise flail and falter historically until they get the perfect roster for D’Antoni to coach his preferred style? How many years of historic losing seasons should a GM commit to? Three? Four? Five? And then when he gets his preferred roster is there an expectation he’ll win a championship? That vaunted Phoenix run ended with only a couple of conference final appearances. Or was that the fault of somebody else too?

    Come on, man.

  13. unxpexted1 - May 2, 2014 at 9:20 AM

    Honestly I’m not fan of Mike D, but I think he would make a really great college coach. Can recruit his own type of players that have no choice but to by in. His style of guard oriented play can really work in college. I think he’d be wildly successful

  14. mytthor - May 3, 2014 at 4:40 AM

    He may or may not be able to coach a successful defense – no one can with Steve Nash and Amare Stoudamire starting. But just for fun factor I will get down on my knees and beg for him to replace Mark Jackson in GS.

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