D’Antoni Given Chance To Enter Elite Company
Published: Thursday, November 15, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 23:11
With the exception of his brief stint in the Big Apple, NBA coach Mike D’Antoni has left his fans with nothing but fond memories at every stop along his crazy journey.
With the Los Angeles Lakers’ decision to bring him aboard to replace Mike Brown, D’Antoni now gets his chance to redeem himself in a major U.S. market — something that had previously proven elusive.
To say that Mike D’Antoni has been a fan favorite everywhere he’s been in basketball is not an overstatement. Forty years after he graduated, members of my family still reminisce about his time playing at Marshall, located close to my home in rural West Virginia.
Marshall has made the NCAA tournament only five times in its long history, but the future Lakers coach made the 1971-1972 season memorable by leading Marshall to No. 8 in the national polls and an NCAA tournament appearance.
D’Antoni went from the small town of Mullen, W.Va. to stardom with a top-10 college basketball program to being the 20th pick in the NBA draft. Following some success in Kansas City, D’Antoni moved to Italy, where he became an immediate sensation and was voted the best point guard in the history of Italian professional basketball.
The best example of how adored D’Antoni was in Italy comes from his newly inherited superstar, Kobe Bryant. When Kobe broke into the NBA, he wore number eight because it was the number D’Antoni wore in Italy while playing with Kobe’s father.
The constant traveler returned to America to become head coach of the Phoenix Suns, where he used Steve Nash and the “seven seconds or less” offense to take the team to two Western Conference Finals. In Arizona, D’Antoni was loved by fans and players alike for the exciting style of play he had adapted from his time abroad.
Before he took a position as an assistant coach with the United States men’s national team, D’Antoni had thus won over fans in West Virginia, Kansas City, Italy and Arizona. With the national team, he was a part of the “Redeem Team” that saw the U.S. return to the gold medal podium, forever endearing him in the hearts of Americans. And the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games laid the groundwork for success with the Lakers, since he was able to bond with Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard.
His only failure — his stint with the New York Knicks — was cursed from the start. The Knicks lacked the personnel to run D’Antoni’s up-tempo offense, with star Carmelo Anthony a particularly poor fit. D’Antoni left the team after clashing with Anthony having coming up short for the first time — and doing so in a major market.
This all leads up to D’Antoni’s accepting the Los Angeles job this week. His only failure in a remarkable career that went from a small town in West Virginia to stardom in Italy happened recently in New York, so his stint in Los Angeles represents a second chance to win over a major U.S. market.
And at the age of 61, this could be his last chance to cement his legacy as one of the most universally liked basketball figures of all time.
The Lakers took some flack when they bypassed legendary coach Phil Jackson for D’Antoni. On paper, Jackson seems like an obvious choice with his 11 titles, especially when compared to D’Antoni’s zero. But Jackson’s triangle offense is a poor match with the four superstars of Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.
On the other hand, D’Antoni’s up-tempo offense with a focus on pick-and-roll play effectively uses the new Laker additions of Nash and Howard while giving Kobe enough touches to keep the volatile superstar happy.
The new Lakers coach has the allegiance of Nash and Bryant already, so he enters Los Angeles with a leg up over other competitors for the job.
This week’s hiring was a bold move for L.A. but a necessary one for the Lakers if they are to defeat the Heat and the Thunder. Rather than relying on a traditional system like the triangle or Princeton offenses, the Lakers are going to attempt to outscore any and all opponents and rely on Howard’s defense.
The Lakers know, with Nash and Kobe, that they cannot guard superstars at the perimeter, so they have opted for a system that requires little perimeter defense in favor of quick buckets and a physical presence at the basket to shut down the likes of Kevin Durant and LeBron James.
With this ambitious approach, the Lakers could bring home their 17th title. More importantly, it could bring D’Antoni his first ring — and the adoration of the Los Angeles market. With those, his place among basketball’s most important figures would be secure.
Corey Blaine is a senior in the McDonough School of Business. THE BLEACHER SEATS appears every Friday.