PHOENIX The Los Angeles Lakers have hired their next ring master in a bracing move that resonates throughout the Arizona desert.
By choosing Mike DAntoni instead of Phil Zen Master Jackson, the despised Lakers have found a key that could unlock the combustible talents of the greatest Phoenix Sun of em all.
Now were all left to wonder if Suns owner Robert Sarver would have facilitated Steve Nashs escape to a playoff contender had he known the Lakers also would end up with the coach who became Nashs ultimate enabler.
But rather than attempting to define the level of teeth gnashing that will occur in Phoenix, lets look bigger picture at just how deadly another DAntoni-Nash alliance can be.
When our Fourth of July reverie was disturbed by news that Nash had gone Hollywood (with the Suns help), a lot of Suns fans were excited. You know storm-the-castle excited.
The level of disgust dipped a bit, however, when the locals remembered that Nash would be attempting to direct the Laker offense while under the thumb of Coach Mike Brown. Brown, you might recall, is not generally regarded as an offensive savant. So, as a potential threat, giving Nash to Brown would not be dissimilar from plutonium falling into the hands of the Amish.
With Brown and his commitment to the Princeton offense being shown the back door -- by the way, it should be noted the Lakers 1-4 start had more to do with their Dartmouth-style defense than an offensive system generating a top-7 level of offensive efficiency -- Nash and his new playmates now look appropriately dangerous.
Anyway, having DAntoni and Nash join forces with Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, the rest of the Western Conference is toast, right?
Well, things could become a bit nastier. But we probably shouldnt expect a complete resurrection of Seven Seconds Or Less, either.
For some professional insight, we now call upon the wisdom of an assistant coach currently employed by another NBA team. Our first inquiry was inspired by news that the Lakers bosses believed DAntonis system is a better fit for the Lakers roster than Jacksons beloved Triangle.
Our expert agreed ... up to a point. (Jackson) never really had a real point guard in Chicago or L.A., and putting someone like Nash whos used to having the ball and spending most of the shot clock probing the defense really would be a different dynamic.
Im not saying adjustments couldnt be made. Great players have ways of figuring things out.
OK, so what about Kurt Rambis a former Jackson assistant and current ESPN talking head insisting Nash would be just dandy in the Triangle?
He (Rambis) was probably going to be on Phils staff, wasnt he? the coach said. Of course hes going to say that. But putting Nash in that system is not playing to what he does best.
OK, so how about the marriage between the Lakers' personnel and DAntonis fast-tempo-driven system that breathes with Nash using high ball screens and working a two-man game in the middle of the floor, while a legion of deadly snipers pulls help defenders to the perimeter?
The Lakers arent very similar to what DAntoni had when the Suns were thriving, the coach said, citing both the Lakers' lack of spot-up shooters like Joe Johnson and Barbosa, or big men like Shawn Marion and Amar'e Stoudemire who capitalize on speed and quickness.
In L.A., he has two great post players in Howard and Gasol, and theyre pretty agile for giants but they arent equipped to play a real fast tempo like he had in Phoenix. And theres the Kobe dynamic of the ball stopping for his one-on-one opportunities.
For some technical input on how DAntoni might adjust in L.A., we consulted an advance scout employed by another Western Conference team. He expects a lot of middle ball screens involving Nash and the big men:
"I think their best option would be Gasol picking and slipping, rolling or popping, with Howard lurking along the baseline like Marion used to. The player guarding Howard will have to choose going to Gasol for the slip and leaving Howard, or staying with Howard while Gasol eats up that mid-range shot. And if they dont show hard on Nash, you have one of the best shooters in history coming off the screen unattended.
And then there's Kobe. Although D'Antoni's system didn't mesh well with Carmelo Anthony and Stoudemire in New York, our scout sees no such difficulty with this group:
"Kobe is more versatile, smarter and has a far superior will to win. The Lakers can run ball screen with Nash and down screen for Kobe on the weak side. Where do you load up on defense when that happens?
He doesnt have to try and play the exact same way the Suns played in Phoenix. All that matters is finding easy ways to score. They dont have the floor spacers he had in Phoenix, but expect to see Nash working the middle and looking to get everyone involved. Their biggest adjustment will be learning to move as the ball moves.
Of course, no examination of a DAntoni team would be complete without mention of his seeming indifference toward defense. But it should be pointed out that using a points-per-game number as the measuring stick of his teams in Phoenix is, well, stupid.
In his four full seasons in Phoenix, DAntonis teams never ranked lower than fourth in pace of play. This makes it a lot trickier to keep the overall points total low. In those four seasons, the Suns never checked in lower than 17th for defensive efficiency among the NBAs teams thats not exactly great, but its better than the Suns have been lately, and easy to embrace because the Suns ranked near or at the top for offensive efficiency.
He had a couple of guys in Phoenix that could really guard you, the assistant coach said in reference to Marion and Raja Bell. Bryant and Metta (World Peace) are getting a bit long in the tooth on the perimeter, but the two bigs provide more resistance at the rim than he had in Phoenix. They probably wont be the 2008 Celtics on defense, but they can be good enough.
Despite all of the chatter regarding personnel and how it blends with different systems, the truly crucial component in being the Lakers ring master is superstar buy-in.
Jacksons court cred would have been automatic.
DAntoni has obvious sway with Nash and was idolized by Bryant when Kobe was a kid growing up in Italy (where Mike was a big star). As an assistant coach for Team USA, DAntoni has worked with Bryant and Howard on championship runs.
Hell have the attention of his players, the coach said. But he has that Showtime spotlight now in a town where the media and fans expect championships. Phil gave em five, and Mikes never been to the Finals. Thats quite a microscope to be under.
And its quite a Petri dish under that microscope.