Los Angeles Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said he chose to hire Mike D’Antoni over fan-favorite and 11-time champion Phil Jackson because he felt D’Antoni’s system would be a better fit for the Lakers current roster. Only time will tell though if he made the right decision.
Now no one doubts that D’Antoni’s system can be implemented on the fly much quicker than the triangle system that Jackson prefers, but Jackson’s coaching style and familiarity with the team’s core players may have ultimately led to more team success.
Don’t believe me? Well let’s take a closer look at their coaching styles.
Both are pretty laid-back in terms of their demeanor on the sideline. They both let their players play through mistakes and both are always striving to put their teams in the best situation to succeed.
Jackson though is considerably better in one major aspect of coaching that could ultimately be D’Antoni’s undoing with this team. Jackson is probably the best in the business at managing egos.
Jackson has years of experience dealing with talented knuckleheads and turning them into productive players. He won three championships with Dennis Rodman in Chicago and one championship with the enigmatic Metta World Peace during his time with the Lakers.
Jackson was also able to coach the feuding Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal to four NBA Finals appearances and three straight NBA titles. There is talk that there were also feuds among players on some of his Bulls teams during his time in Chicago.
Despite it all though, Jackson has shown over the course of his coaching career that he can get players to look past themselves and work together in order to produce wins. Regardless of X’s and O’s, that is probably the one ability that has been the most critical to his success as a coach.
D’Antoni didn’t really have any relationship issues among his players in New York last year but he still had a hard time getting the different talents in his locker room to jell on the court. He also had a hard time getting his quick-strike offense to mesh with then-assistant coach Mike Woodson’s defensive scheme.
But defense has always been a priority for Jackson-coached teams. If the old adage holds true that defense wins championships, then that makes it even more questionable as to why someone would choose D’Antoni over Jackson.
Plus it’s weird that with all the talent D’Antoni had at his disposal last year that he couldn’t even keep the Knicks over .500 in a weak Eastern Conference. The Knicks were six games under .500 when D’Antoni stepped down last season.
But I don’t think anyone really doubts that Jackson is the better coach. As Kupchak put it, it came down to the systems they run.
Well let’s take a closer look at that also. While most would admit that D’Antoni’s system would be easier to implement, that doesn’t mean it is the better system for the Lakers’ current roster.
This is especially true when you consider that three of the team’s key players have spent numerous years in the triangle. The triangle, or triple-post offense, fits better with an older team like the Lakers.
This wouldn’t be the case if no one on the team had ever played in the triangle or for Jackson but since Bryant, Pau Gasol and World Peace are well versed in the tenets of the triangle then they could help facilitate the transition for the other players on the roster.
Plus many people believe that the triangle is a rigid offense but it really is not. The triangle offense would stall on many occasions, even during the time Michael Jordan and crew were running it in Chicago.
But going back to one of the things that make Jackson such a good coach is the fact that he understands you don’t win with a system, you win with players.
When the system broke down, Jordan or Scottie Pippen had the ability to create offense. Bryant and Steve Nash bring the same ability to create offense whenever the system breaks down.
The triangle has also been successful when employing two big men. Shaq played effortlessly with both Karl Malone and Horace Grant. Gasol and Andrew Bynum were able to play well enough together to help the Lakers win two championships.
D’Antoni hasn’t shown the ability to coach two talented big men at the same time in his system though.
It didn’t work with Shaq and Amar’e Stoudemire in Phoenix, or with Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler in New York. I really don’t expect it to work with Gasol and Dwight Howard either.
But as I said before, only time will tell. Let’s see if the Lakers are still playing in June or watching from home.
Roosevelt Hall is an NFL Blogger for The Sport Mentalist and an NBA Blogger for The Sport Mentalist 2. He is also a Sports Reporter for Pro Sports Lives. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to follow him on Twitter @sportmentalist.
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