Sunday, December 16, 2012

Lakers’ D’Antoni either unable or unwilling to adapt

New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson has been very successful since taking over the team after former coach Mike D’Antoni’s resignation last season. While D’Antoni has moved on to what most would consider a more talented team, D’Antoni hasn’t been nearly as successful as his New York successor.

It almost makes you wonder why D’Antoni was touted as such a big coaching hire to begin with. He didn’t get it done in New York and despite all the talent at his disposal with the Los Angeles Lakers, he hasn’t been able to get it done there either.

In D’Antoni’s four NBA coaching stops, the only team he has had sustained success with was the Phoenix Suns. The reason for that success? Steve Nash.

Nash is the true reason D’Antoni was so successful in Phoenix and he’s the reason so many people believed D’Antoni would be successful in L.A.

Nash is the kind of pass-first point guard that teams covet. Although Nash is one of the league’s best shooters he would rather get everyone else on the court involved.

That is why the Suns were able to stay a .500 team even after both D’Antoni and A’mare Stoudemire left the organization. With Nash now a Laker, the Suns are experiencing their worst record since the 2003-2004 season. That was the year before Nash joined the team.

That was also the first season D’Antoni coached the Suns. He took over after the Suns fired head coach Frank Johnson who had gotten the Suns off to an 8-13 start that year. D’Antoni didn’t do much better posting a 21-40 record in the last 61 games of the season.

The Suns were able to sign Nash away from the Dallas Mavericks during D’Antoni’s first full season as a coach and the rest is history as they say.

Having a player like Nash on the floor actually hides many of a coach’s inadequacies as it seems. Just look at what Jason Kidd, another pass-first point guard, has done for the many coaches he has played for over the years.

Nash has been instrumental in helping his teams advance to the Western Conference Finals on four different occasions while Kidd has helped his teams advance to the Finals three times.

I had to mention Kidd because he is now playing for D’Antoni’s successor Mike Woodson in New York and you see how well the Knicks are playing this season. Of course the Knicks also played pretty well after D’Antoni left last season.

But Woodson has been a successful coach without having point guards like Steve Nash, Jeremy Lin or Jason Kidd on his roster. During Woodson’s time coaching the Atlanta Hawks, their wins increased every season.

The key to Woodson’s success doesn’t point to one player the way D’Antoni’s does though. Woodson’s success is due to his adaptability.

Woodson has done a better job of adapting to situations than D’Antoni has. The Knicks were still able to win games consistently after Lin went down last season. D’Antoni hasn’t shown the ability to win consistently with the Lakers while Nash has been out with an injury.

Woodson has also done a better job of adapting to his roster than D’Antoni has.

D’Antoni had a hard time stringing together wins despite a roster that consisted of Carmelo Anthony, Stoudemire, Lin and Tyson Chandler. Hard to imagine a team underachieving with all of that talent but the Knicks were six games under .500 when D’Antoni left.

Woodson had those guys playing as a cohesive unit once D’Antoni resigned though and has done a great job of meshing the talent New York added this year.

No one on this earth can imagine a coach not being able to win with a roster that consists of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard but D’Antoni has made that idea much more feasible.

Well D’Antoni isn’t totally responsible for this since Mike Brown wasn’t able to get it done either. It does strike me as odd though that interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff was able to get it done during his five-game stretch coaching the Lakers.

And just like Woodson, Bickerstaff got it done using D’Antoni’s offense. D’Antoni introduced his offensive concepts to the Lakers players during the practices he held while Bickerstaff was bench-warming for him.

But D’Antoni hasn’t been able to string together wins the way Bickerstaff did or the way Woodson is doing now. Probably because he doesn’t emphasize defense as strongly as those other coaches do.

That may not matter though if D’Antoni is able to get Nash back. While I doubt D’Antoni will ever lead a team to a championship no matter how well Nash plays, at least he should be able to help the Lakers rise back to the top of the standings.

And that’s really about the best the Lakers’ management can hope for right now.

With the Memphis Grizzlies, L.A. Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs looking like the best bets to come out of the Western Conference, the Lakers at least hope they can give one of these teams a run for their money in the playoffs.

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 and be sure to follow him on Twitter @sportmentalist.

Also check out these stories:

LeBron to Chuck: “Shut up!”

D’Antoni vs Jackson: a Contrast in Coaching Styles

Rockets' Jeremy Lin: All-Star starter?



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