Why Kings Must Heed The Lesson Of Mike D’Antoni
By Whitey Gleason
Special to CowbellKingdom.com
If we truly know all we think we know about the Kings and what they want from their head coach, then it’s puzzling why we haven’t heard Mike D’Antoni’s name mentioned more frequently.
Don’t misunderstand me; I think George Karl would be a perfect fit. It’s also increasingly apparent that the team is committed to Ty Corbin, at least for now. If the Kings, however, are not going to entertain the notion of hiring D’Antoni, they should at the very least heed the lesson his mercurial coaching career provides.
We’ve all heard the reports that the Kings showed offseason interest in Alvin Gentry, who served as D’Antoni’s assistant during the “7 seconds or less” days in Phoenix. Gentry eventually took over for D’Antoni’s replacement, Terry Porter, and had some success blending D’Antoni’s breakneck offense with Porter’s emphasis on defense.
Gentry’s Suns won 54 games in 2010, getting all the way to the Conference finals. But they were not able to sustain the success they’d had under D’Antoni, who coached them to four consecutive 50-win seasons from 2005 through 2008.
The Suns were the league’s highest scoring team for three straight seasons and finished third in scoring in 2008. The Suns’ high-octane attack was breath-taking – literally, for defenses that had to try to keep up with it. They made two trips to the Conference finals, losing to the Spurs in ’05 and Dallas in ’06, with Steve Nash winning MVP awards both years.
And therein lies the lesson. It’s a lesson that Vivek Ranadive, with his Ahabian fixation on up-tempo basketball, must acknowledge. It’s a lesson as old as the game itself: your system and your players must be compatible.
It’s no coincidence that D’Antoni’s Suns didn’t start to shine until they picked up Nash as a free agent. Not only did Nash excel in running the break, he and Amare Stoudamire absolutely mastered the pick and roll, which was the staple of D’Antoni’s halfcourt offense.
D’Antoni’s rosters were stocked with players who thrived under his system – Shawn Marion, Joe Johnson, Leandro Barbosa, Quentin Richardson. True, the Suns didn’t offer much resistance, despite the best efforts of Raja Bell and Kurt Thomas, but they were exciting, and they won.
Why hasn’t D’Antoni been as successful since leaving Phoenix? His Knicks won 42 games one year, and he oversaw the brief Linsanity Era at the Garden – which ended right about the time Carmelo Anthony returned from injury.
Reunited with Nash in LA, D’Antoni rallied the Lakers to a strong finish and a playoff spot in 2013 – but only after scrapping his system. Dwight Howard struggled to run the pick and roll with Nash the way Stoudamire had, and by the next season, Kobe and Pau Gasol were both openly critical of D’Antoni’s small ball tactics. The coach resigned last April after a dismal 27-win season, and Kobe was still taking shots at D’Antoni when camp opened last fall.
The key question for the Kings is this: when Pete D’Alessandro says, “We weren’t going to win” the way Mike Malone was coaching them, does he means the Kings couldn’t win that way – or that they’re choosing not to? If it’s the latter, then they’d better be mindful of what happened to one of the most prolific offensive coaches of our time when he inherited players who didn’t embrace his style.
Whitey Gleason has spent the last 20 years as a member of the Rise Guys, a Northern California sports radio team that currently resides on ESPN 1320 AM and airs weekdays from 2-6 p.m.