A large portion of the frustrations that came with the worst regular season record in Los Angeles Lakers history was head coach Mike D’Antoni’s affinity to play with smaller lineups even when injuries didn’t necessitate that he do so.
It was a philosophy that worked for D’Antoni when he was coach of the Phoenix Suns during a time where his offenses were powered by a youthful Steve Nash, a pre-injury Amar’e Stoudemire and the versatile Shawn Marion, to go along with several other interchangeable pieces. D’Antoni’s Suns teams were ahead of their time, pushing the ball up and down the court en route to overwhelming their opponents with scoring, speed and athleticism.
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For several reasons which can be argued, the Suns failed to win an NBA title, but D’Antoni continued to implement the style of play with the New York Knicks and then the Lakers. He has yet been able to duplicate the success he had in Phoenix, but remains confident the uptempo style and NBA titles are not exclusive of each other and looked no further than the back-to-back champion Miami Heat, according to Trevor Wong of Lakers.com:
Last year, you essentially had both teams – (Miami and San Antonio) – playing the same style that we had in Phoenix,” D’Antoni said. “Not only did (Miami) win once, but they won twice in a row. Obviously playing this way doesn’t inhibit you from being an NBA champion.”
Though the NBA has began to shift towards a more fast-paced game, Wong reports D’Antoni is well aware of the negative reaction change can elicit:
People are comfortable with doing business a certain way. When that business kind of shifts to get people to change, it’s not easy. It’s a process.”
As for the common label of “small ball” that is often placed on D’Antoni’s preferred style, his brother and assistant coach Dan, offers a different description:
We should name it skill ball,” Dan said. “You’re playing guys that are skilled. You see that across the line. Miami has shown that. I thought we showed it at times in Phoenix. Your five best guys are going to get on the floor and play, and you’ll find the right position for them.”
No matter the name, the D’Antoni brothers have yet to win over the Lakers fan base. Their tenure in Los Angeles has certainly been marred by injuries during a period where expectations are arguably higher than usual with Kobe Bryant’s career winding down.
With Jim Buss recently vowing to have the Lakers contending for conference titles and NBA championships within three to four years, whether or not the ‘skill ball’ offense will get an opportunity to flourish in Los Angeles remains to be seen.
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