Phil Jackson would've been great, but D'Antoni fits Lakers just fine

Should Phil Jackson be the coach of the Lakers today? Of course he should. Given the chance to bring back an 11-time champion of his basketball brilliance, mind-bending snark and unparalleled stature, everyone should've been on board to make that happen.

Everyone, including Phil. But you see, if Jackson, 67, wasn't sure he could commit to the full road schedule, you might've had what Jackson liked to call a "situation." He called almost everything a situation, and this would've been a "lack-of-commitment situation." And you can't have those in the NBA.

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The NBA is an every-day grind -- a 24-7 situation -- and Jackson being available anything less than every day would've been akin to what Kobe Bryant said happened the last time they were together. It was Bryant who said he would always regret not being able to give Jackson his all because of a knee injury when the two were together for the last time in 2010-11. Jackson shouldn't have wanted to give Bryant anything less than 100 percent, either.

But there's more to it than that. There's ego and control, two points of the only triangle that mattered here -- the other point being money. That's the NBA's real triangle offense: money, ego and control.

Jackson was "asking for the moon," the Los Angeles Times reported, and I would have, too. The Lakers were desperate, but not so desperate they were willing to cede basketball control and possibly an ownership stake for Jackson to make his third go-round with the Lakers a reality.

As far as I can tell, Jackson already has that ownership stake in his relationship with longtime girlfriend Jeanie Buss. As far as basketball decisions, what basketball decisions? Other than using amnesty on Metta World Peace next summer, the basketball decisions with this roster have already been made. All it needed was a coach to guide it -- both tactically and philosophically -- toward its championship destiny.

So it will not be Phil, and NBA columnists with empty notebooks and love-sick writing instruments will be much worse for it. But what of the Lakers? Well, there was no coach alive -- much less living in Los Angeles -- who could've brought the level of instant credibility, respect and yes, intimidation to the Lakers' locker room other than Jackson. To compare his credentials to any other candidate's simply wouldn't be fair.

Just ask Mike Brown.

The world and Dwight Howard will be worse off for not getting a chance to hear Jackson publicly tweak and needle Howard for his effort and disposition, the way he so successfully prodded Andrew Bynum. Howard could've used a few zingers from the Zen Master.

But if you're looking for someone to say Mike D'Antoni was a bad hire, you're going to have to look somewhere else. If you're looking for someone to take a few swings at the low-hanging fruit on D'Antoni's resume -- no championship experience, doesn't coach defense -- then you've come to the wrong place. If you're looking for anti-D'Antoni-ism, there are plenty of other places to find it. Not here.

D'Antoni is a brilliant offensive coach, the best in the game. If not for a bounce here or a leaving-the-bench suspension there, he might well have gotten to the NBA Finals and won it all. At least once. In which case, the Lakers would've had to pay him a lot more than $12 million over four years to come save them now.

Doesn't coach defense? Not entirely accurate. The Knicks were comfortably in the top-10 in defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) last season before D'Antoni was forced out for reasons that had nothing to do with his intellect. D'Antoni was even ego-less enough to not only accept, but embrace the hiring of Mike Woodson as his defensive coordinator, so to speak -- even though Woodson's presence on the bench wound up hastening D'Antoni's departure.

What D'Antoni doesn't coach is a plodding style in which every possession is crucial and there's no room for error. That's how Brown liked to coach, and everyone was in agreement that it was stifling the Lakers' strengths -- which are on the offensive side of the ball. In this piece on the Lakers' attempt to adopt this Princeton-like offense, I pondered how the Lakers could've looked at the potentially unstoppable pick-and-roll duo of Howard and Steve Nash and decided that Eddie Jordan and the Princeton was the way to go:

Howard averaged a ridiculous 1.38 points per possession as the roll man on pick-and-rolls last season, No. 1 in the league for players with at least 50 such opportunities, according to Synergy Sports Technology. He shot 74 percent on such possessions (53 for 72), making him virtually unguardable. Pairing him with Nash, the greatest pick-and-roll point guard of his generation, makes you wonder why Brown didn’t instead hire D’Antoni to be his offensive assistant and just let Nash and Howard put on a pick-and-roll clinic for the ages.

Now, they've done one better. D'Antoni is offensive coordinator and head coach, and the Lakers will be the Suns of Nash's prime only with Howard on the receiving end of Nash's pick-and-roll artistry instead of Amar'e Stoudemire -- and with Bryant lurking off the ball if defenses dare to double it, blitz it or in any way disrupt it.

As you watched the Lakers walk the ball up the court and try to put Staples Center to sleep with an endless lullaby of dribble-handoffs and backdoor cuts, you knew that was no way for this team to live. Not the Showtime Lakers; not a team piloted by Nash, blessed with the all-around skills of Pau Gasol, fortunate to have an unstoppable force named Howard and beholden to the all-time scoring gifts and competitive demands of Bryant.

In a league where everyone is playing faster and smaller -- where everyone is emulating D'Antoni -- the Lakers tried going back to the stone age. D'Antoni will get them current, and the Lakers' overwhelming talent has a chance to make D'Antoni's system shine like never before. 

Even with Howard solidifying the back end of the Lakers' defense, this was never going to be a team that would win a playoff game, much less a championship, when it needed a stop on the final possession of regulation. It wasn't going to be that team under Brown or under Jackson, and it won't be that team under D'Antoni.

That doesn't mean the Lakers can't win this way, any more than it meant the Suns or the Knicks were doomed to failure under D'Antoni. With one foot on the accelerator and the other on the opposing defense's throat, this Lakers team will be fun to watch, impossible to stop and in the championship mix where they belong.

D'Antoni isn't quite ready to go yet due to recent knee surgery, but as long as knee surgery doesn't happen to Bryant, Howard, Nash or Gasol, I struggle to see how that will be an issue.

Could the Lakers use more 3-point shooting to optimize D'Antoni's approach? You bet. Just remember that the new CBA doesn't forbid the Lakers from making trades, or from signing an all-time postseason clutch shooter like Derek Fisher, who is without an employer and warming up in the bullpen. In the meantime, D'Antoni will turn Jodie Meeks into such a threat. Two years ago, Meeks shot 40 percent from beyond the arc on 138 made 3-pointers. Steve Blake has made more than 100 3-pointers in a season three times in his career, and he'll do so again under D'Antoni (pending the outcome of an abdominal strain).

D'Antoni has always been fond of saying he doesn't need shooters; he needs makers. His history suggests that he turns shooters into makers and makers into can't-missers. It's always been one of the dumbest criticisms leveled by the anti-D'Antoni-ites, that his system artificially inflates his players' statistics. Um, isn't that what a coach is supposed to do? Get more production out of his players than they're otherwise capable of providing?

So as much as Jackson's return made sense, and as Hollywood-esque as it would've been, the Lakers won't regret this. Gregg Popovich, Scott Brooks, Erik Spoelstra, Doc Rivers and Tom Thibodeau? Their nights just became a little more sleepless. 

There was only one coach who could've shaken Lakerland to its core and restored a championship disposition to the franchise immediately, and that was Jackson. But it's possible that no pairing of talent, coach and system could've shaken the rest of the West -- the rest of the league -- like that of D'Antoni, his system and the Lakers.

You may now behold, enjoy or fear this combination, depending on your perspective. The Lakers went with a different kind of triangle, and the points might just be sharper than the alternative.

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Ken Berger began covering the NBA when Kobe Bryant was a rookie. Somehow, he'll outlast him. Ken has multiple top-10 finishes in the APSE writing contest and one championship to his credit - the 2015 Metropolitan... Full Bio

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