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Brownout and the D'Antoni effect.

Posted by: SPQR on Nov 16, 2012 - 02:26 PM
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Of course the big news this last week was the Lakers firing of Mike Brown after the putative Super Team looked much less than super during its first few games.

In today's Sports Illustrated, veteran NBA writer Chris Mannix wrote about the latest Lakers hi jinx of Brown's departure and what the effect the hiring of Mike D'Antonio could have on the team’s weaknesses and fortunes. It's an interesting read.

From my own point of view, just looking at some to the topics he brought up and a bit more of my own:

Can D'Antoni fix some of the more crucial flaws we have? Flaws that I felt were perhaps not addressed by the FO off season moves as strongly as they needed to be to insure us another title? Those being defense, three point shooting, age and the bench. That remains to be seen. And it may be that no coach can or could address those issues with the personnel given to him by the FO.

It was interesting to note that even the FO now says the Princeton offense was not working. Also interesting to note that given our acquistion of Nash and Howard to go with Kobe and Pau, the Princeton offense was not an offense that played into our personnel. So the question persists, why did the Lakers take so much time and effort to go that route? Why did Coach Brown want to do it and more importantly, why did the FO sign off on it?

Also interesting that last night on ESPN Kobe was asked if the team would have a problem getting rid of Brown's new offense and adopting to D'Antoni's new one. His answer: "No. We didn't even learn that one anyway."

Which begs the question, Was that because it was so complicated or was it because the players really didn't believe in it or Coach Brown? Was it an indication that this train was peopled by passengers who had no interest in it's final destination nor any confidence in the ability or longevity of its conductor?

Also interesting that the triangle under Phil Jackson would not have taken full advantage of our acquisition of Steve Nash, or second most important off season move after Howard. Mitch seems to indicate that had something to do with the decision not to rehire Jackson and instead go with D'Antoni, who certainly got the most from Nash and pick and roll back in their salad days in Phoenix. And there is some common sense and logic in that thinking.

If you are going to give up so much for Nash, if he is going to be that important to the team, as apparently he is meant to be, why run an offense that relegates him to just another cog in a system offense? I mean since you got him, don't you have to maximize him and go full bore with him? Otherwise, what was the point of it?

That is not to say D'Antoni was the best choice out of a world full of coaches. But perhaps he was a better choice than Brown or Phil given the construct of this team and what they intended when getting Nash.

As I've said before, this team is better in its individual parts than its current abysmal record. And I do see better times and play ahead. I don't see how it can be otherwise. But I am also not so sure this is the Super Team it was claimed by the media and fans. It may be something more in-between when all is said and done: A good team that has too many flaws to achieve the greatness expected and predicted.

With the change over to D'Antoni, the true season starts. Because how many coaches can get blamed or be fired before the FO has to start looking at the players on the floor for culpability. The next change, if it has to come, will be with those players on the floor, not the man behind the bench.

In regards to this, in the article, a Western conference scout said they should move Pau if they can get a couple good (read younger, more athletic) players. And that is exactly the move I said a few weeks ago would happen if things keep going as they are. Pau would be the man to go, because he is the only one who can bring in a return that may yet rejuvenate this team if that is the prescription that is needed. You can only change coaches so often, but eventually it’s the guys on the floor, and chemistry, and synergy, and ability and yes, youth and young legs, that decide a team’s ultimate fate.

And now, the article by Chris Mannix in this week’s Sports Illustrated:

BROWNOUT

Showing none of the verve of their Showtime forebears, the Lakers hired Mike D'Antoni, who inherits a team rife with stars-and questions
By Chris Mannix

Last Friday embattled Lakers coach Mike Brown arrived at the team's El Segundo, Calif., practice facility just before 9 a.m., ready to work. By 10, he was out of a job. Brown's firing was a knee-jerk reaction: What else can you call the dismissal of a coach who was trying to incorporate two new starters into one of the game's most complicated offensive systems, just five games into a season? But ownership, which, with a $100 million payroll and a pending bill for nearly $30 million in luxury taxes, wasn't willing to give Brown a chance to dig Los Angeles out of a 1-4 start.

On Monday the Lakers hired Mike D'Antoni, 61, one of the NBA's elite offensive minds, who was handed the reins after negotiations with Phil Jackson broke down. L.A. will shell out $12 million over the next three years for D'Antoni-and eat the remaining $11 million on Brown's contract-because the team faced major problems in every facet of the game.

OFFENSE

Advocated for by Kobe Bryant in the off-season and installed by assistant Eddie Jordan-the architect of the read-and-react system that powered the Nets to the Finals in 2002 and '03-the Princeton offense was supposed to rejuvenate a team that slipped from sixth in the NBA in efficiency (111.0 points per 100 possessions) in 2010-11 to 10th (106.0) last season.

Statistically, the Lakers' attack wasn't bad: After beating the Warriors 101-77 under interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff last Friday, L.A. ranked 10th in efficiency (105.2). But, says G.M. Mitch Kupchak, "I never thought we got to the point where the offense was flowing. You would see some flashes of it, but we never had a consistent flow throughout the course of a game. They either weren't getting it or it was going to take too long for them to get it, and we weren't willing to find out which of the two it was."

In truth, the Lakers' personnel doesn't fit the Princeton system. Steve Nash won two MVP awards running mostly pick-and-roll in Phoenix. Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard are two of the most effective post-up players in the league. By emphasizing floor spacing, dribble handoffs and back-cuts, L.A. was ignoring its strengths. "We couldn't have contained Dwight and Pau if they'd just kept dumping it in to them," says an assistant from a Western Conference team that played the Lakers this season. "But they didn't. I was shocked."

The D'Antoni Effect

Even without a full training camp, D'Antoni's up-tempo attack-which has a steady diet of pick-and-rolls and allows Nash to freelance-should be easy to install. While the system will benefit Nash, adjustments must be made to enhance Bryant's role: In Phoenix and New York, D'Antoni's off-guard has been primarily a spot-up shooter. "His system in the past would have marginalized Kobe," says a Western Conference scout. "You will probably see more flex-cuts-basically running off baseline screens-for Kobe to get post isolations."

DEFENSE

Brown came to L.A. with a reputation as a defensive guru: In three of his five years in Cleveland, the Cavaliers finished in the top 10 in defensive efficiency. But the Lakers were porous under Brown; they finished 13th in efficiency last season and were 23rd this year before he was fired. "They had such poor floor balance," says the Western scout. "Because they were still learning the offense, the transition defense has been terrible. Before, they were very good at getting back and setting their defense. With their size and power they could load up and make you play from the perimeter."

Again, personnel was a factor: Nash and Gasol are mediocre defenders, three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard is recovering from off-season back surgery, and Bryant is only effective in spurts. "If Kobe is allowed to be physical, he's O.K.," says an Eastern Conference scout. "But he can't stay in front of the fast guys anymore."

The D'Antoni Effect

In the past D'Antoni has been criticized for not devoting enough practice time to D. In seven full seasons as a coach, his teams have never finished higher than 13th in defensive efficiency. While the improvements on offense will likely smooth the transition defense, the fact remains that even if D'Antoni hires a top defensive assistant-which as of Monday he hadn't-L.A.'s defensive deficiencies are due more to personnel than tactics.

BENCH

After finishing at the bottom of the league in second-unit scoring last season (20.5 points per game), the Lakers acquired veterans Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks and Chris Duhon-and Brown didn't trust any of them. In a win over the Pistons last week, Brown reinserted his starters after Detroit cut the lead to 24 points (24 points!) with less than nine minutes to go in the fourth quarter. At week's end L.A.'s reserves were averaging 20.7 points, second worst in the NBA.

The D'Antoni Effect

The new coach's system should squeeze more production out of the reserves, but he isn't a magician. At week's end Jamison was averaging just 8.0 points per 36 minutes (down from 18.7 last season), and Meeks was shooting 28.6%. Unless the Lakers move Gasol-"If they could get a decent starter and two reserves for Pau, they should do it," says an Eastern Conference executive-they are still going to lean heavily on their starters.

Howard's ailing back and Bryant's slowing feet haven't helped L.A.'s overly generous defense.

Coaching a championship team isn't easy-since 1996 only seven men have done it-and from Andrew Bynum's defiant behavior last season to the viral video of Bryant's icy glare at Brown late in a loss to Utah this season, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that L.A.'s star-studded roster wasn't buying into Brown. "The [players'] body language was terrible," says the Western Conference scout. "Watch them coming out of timeouts or setting up some of the new plays in the half-court. They didn't look like a team that trusted the system they were playing in."

The D'Antoni Effect

This is where D'Antoni will have an immediate impact. He has the complete confidence of Nash, who became a superstar when they joined forces on the Suns. Bryant grew up watching D'Antoni play in Italy and played under him in 2008 and '12, when D'Antoni was a U.S. Olympic assistant. D'Antoni is regarded as a players' coach, and his track record gives him instant credibility.

That's important, because the clock is ticking. Jackson's triangle offense and championship experience would have improved the Lakers, but D'Antoni's fast-paced system could make them even better. Though if the players continue to perform-and, particularly, defend-as they did under Brown, there isn't a coach on the planet who can save L.A.'s season.

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