So Mike D’Antoni is headed to Hollywood, and the Internet is ablaze trying to determine just how much this helps or hurts the Lakers, everybody’s favorite talking point this season. The Lakers are a superstar team, in a superstar town, and D’Antoni is now a superstar coach, at least that’s what Kupchak and crew are betting on with their three-year deal to bring in the former Knicks and Suns coach. But aside from his MVP in Phoenix, Steve Nash, and one half of a productive season with Amar’e Stoudemire in New York (as well as fleeting moments in the desert), superstars haven’t been an integral part of D’Antoni’s coaching experience, and in those instances when a superstar’s distinct blip did appear on his radar, it wasn’t always smooth sailing afterwards. Furthermore, D’Antoni’s inability to meet any personal issues with his superstar directly – preferring to shirk any of that responsibility – also leaves a lot to be desired. If a superstar publicly disagrees with D’Antoni’s “spread the floor and give it to Nash” offense, he can’t slink off into the sunset; it’s just a dark open Pacific west of Los Angeles.
D’Antoni’s SSOL philosophy might appear to be the perfect anecdote for the Lakers’ (not really awful) offense this season, but how will he handle the myriad of egos that comprise the current Lakers roster? How will he handle Orlando coach-killer, Dwight Howard? How will he handle the hyper-competitive Jordan sycophant and five-time NBA champion, Kobe Bryant, when D’Antoni’s never advanced past a conference final? How will he handle the emotional instability of Pau Gasol or Metta World Peace? If his past resume is any indication, he’ll handle the interpersonal dynamics of this current Lakers iteration like he always does: by avoiding any and all confrontation with the aggrieved party. Unfortunately, that’s not really a blueprint for success.
Jack McCallum‘s book from the Suns bench, Seven Seconds or Less, has become so ubiquitous it’s now an acronym for Mike D’Antoni’s offensive coaching philosophy. D’Antoni and his Suns espoused a let ‘er rip schema for any and all open looks, but in that same book D’Antoni’s hands-off approach to dealing with troubled superstars was also evident. Stoudemire’s recovery from his initial knee injury and ensuing microfracture surgery was a black mark on D’Antoni and the Suns’ ’05-’06 season documented by McCallum. Stoudemire appeared disinterested in the Suns’ progress and his own attempts at convalescence. He clashed with D’Antoni’s coaching staff, who wanted him to play a role with the team even as he attempted to come back from his injury.
When D’Antoni moved on to New York, he inherited a roster that featured only one borderline superstar: Stephon Marbury. D’Antoni might have loved point guard play after his years with Nash, but when his initial Knicks season started – even with Marbury in great shape coming into training camp – D’Antoni still relegated “Starbury” to the bench behind career backup, Chris Duhon. D’Antoni failed to heed calls for Marbury to play early in the ’08-’09 season, and there was some “he said/she said” rhetoric after a roster dump opened up playing time for Steph off the bench, which resulted in dressing only seven players one night. Eventually, the team banned Marbury from practices or games, and only reached a buyout with him in December of that year.
Starbury and D’Antoni’s feuding was reinvigorated after D’Antoni’s resignation from the Knicks this past spring, even going so far as to become “buzz-worthy.” Regardless of Marbury’s sanity, which is certainly up in the air, D’Antoni failed to play his superior point guard, and mishandled the early publicity that came with Marbury’s benching in his inaugural season in New York. Why would things be different in the L.A. microcosm that’s already shown it’s abrasive enough to get a coach fired after just five games?