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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Lakers' Coaching Triangle

Mike Brown is an excellent defensive-minded coach. Mike D'Antoni is an excellent offensive-minded coach. Phil Jackson is arguably the greatest NBA coach of all-time. I think that the L.A. Lakers should have given Brown a full season to implement his program but I can understand firing Brown to replace him with Jackson. I do not understand firing Brown after only five regular season games--during which his projected starting lineup barely had any time on the court together--in order to replace him with D'Antoni. That is, at best, a lateral move. The Lakers have won two straight games under the direction of interim Coach Bernie Bickerstaff and I have no doubt that they will post a very good regular season record once D'Antoni takes the helm, just like I have no doubt that they would have posted a very good regular season record if Brown had not been fired (assuming, in both scenarios, that the Lakers do not suffer any more injuries to one of their top four players). The Lakers' regular season record is almost beside the point; it is obvious that the current Lakers' roster was assembled with just one idea in mind: winning at least one championship and possibly squeezing out two championships before Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash either retire or decline to the point that they are no longer top level performers. The Lakers need a coach who can lead them to the top of the league right now while also being prepared for the inevitable shift from a Bryant-centric squad to a Dwight Howard-centric squad. Phil Jackson can unquestionably perform the first task and he likely can groom a qualified successor to perform the second task. I believe that Mike Brown, who twice led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the best record in the league and who also guided the Cavaliers to the 2007 NBA Finals, could have performed both tasks. D'Antoni favors an exciting, fun to watch brand of uptempo offensive basketball but he does not place much emphasis on the defensive end of the court. The Lakers' main offensive problem right now is a lack of familiarity and continuity among the key players in their rotation; regardless of who the coach is, that problem will become less of an issue as the season progresses and the team's stars get used to playing with each other. In order to win a championship and in order to build a framework in which Howard becomes the team's literal and figurative centerpiece in the next two years or so, the Lakers need a coach who will put a system in place that fully exploits Howard's skills as a defender, rebounder and high percentage scorer in the paint.

For many years, Roland Lazenby--who probably knows as much as anyone about the inner workings of the Lakers' front office--has described the acrimonious relationship between Jim Buss and Phil Jackson. Lazenby has also expressed skepticism about Buss' ability to maintain the Lakers' status as an elite franchise the way that Jim's father Jerry did for nearly 30 years. Preliminary reports and indications suggest that the main reason the Lakers hired D'Antoni instead of Jackson is that Jackson tried to humiliate Buss with his requests/demands pertaining to Jackson's role with the team and Buss responded/retaliated by breaking off talks with Jackson. Jackson has denied that he made any outlandish demands and he has suggested that the Lakers lied to him, first saying that he had until Monday to decide whether or not to take the job only to then call him on Sunday night to announce that they had already hired D'Antoni.

Regardless of what exactly happened between Jim Buss and Phil Jackson over the weekend, it is no secret that the last time Jackson worked with the Lakers he did not get along well with Buss and it is also no secret that previously Jackson did not get along well with Jerry West in L.A. or with Jerry Krause in Chicago. The Zen Master has more that a little Machiavellian streak in him but the Lakers would have been wise to overlook that personality trait in view of Jackson's track record of delivering championships.

D'Antoni's Lakers will probably be setting the world on fire offensively within a couple months--but will they be equipped to beat smart, defensive-minded teams like the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder? It would not be surprising if D'Antoni's Lakers lead the league in field goal percentage this season but unless they also rank in the top 10 in defensive field goal percentage the Lakers likely will not win the West.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:13 AM

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