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Lakers' early coaching change might make adjustment easier

The Lakers again must learn a new system as Mike D'Antoni takes over as head coach. Patience is advised, but fans could be eager for rapid results.

November 17, 2012|By Lisa Dillman
  • Mike D'Antoni is joined by Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak during his introduction as the team's new coach at a press conference Thursday.
Mike D'Antoni is joined by Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak during… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

From Phil Jackson's triangle to Mike Brown Part I to Brown's Princeton offense to the unveiling of Mike D'Antoni's high-octane offense, it's not just Lakers fans getting lightheaded with the swift changes.

D'Antoni, the new Lakers coach, hopes to bring "Showtime" back to Los Angeles.

Son of Showtime?

Patience, of course, is advised. But nearly everyone knows in a win-now, well …win-yesterday mode, that well-meaning advice is not often taken around here.

"It has been basically four offenses that everybody has been trying to get adjusted to, along with multiple moving parts," said Steve Smith, NBA TV analyst, who played for seven NBA teams, appeared in the All-Star game in 1998 and won a championship with the San Antonio Spurs in 2003.

"It's going to take some time. I think Laker fans should give them 20 to 25 games.

"But, unfortunately, the city you guys live in, 20 to 25 games is not going to be acceptable to Laker Nation."

On one hand, the regime change may have come off clumsy and practically un-Laker-like. But the early firing of Brown — just five games into the season — means that D'Antoni won't have to spend as much time rewiring the brains of his players.

TNT analyst Kenny Smith said he thought it was an advantage for D'Antoni to come in this early in the season. The Lakers have played nine games, the last four under interim head coach Bernie Bickerstaff.

"Nothing has been set in stone," Smith said in an interview with The Times. "You don't have to change anything. You don't have to come in and re-create and re-draw stuff. It's like OK, 'Remember that stuff you did last week? Well you're not doing it.'

"It's not the stuff you've been doing all year, for years.

"I think it takes time for anyone to implement a system. There are teams right now — other than the Lakers — that haven't figured out their systems. They're still in the same boat as everyone else."

Then there are other things to consider.

NBA history, for one.

Only twice since 1982 has a new coach been put in during the season and the team managed to win a championship in that same season.

Both times it was Pat Riley.

Riley, now the president of the Miami Heat, did it in 2006. Then the team's general manager, he took over from Stan Van Gundy and guided the likes of Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade to the title over the Dallas Mavericks.

First, and famously, he accomplished it with the Lakers. In the 1981-82 season, Paul Westhead was dispatched 11 games into the campaign, following a loss at Utah, having clashed with Magic Johnson. Riley's first head coaching job resulted in an NBA title with the Lakers beating the 76ers in the Finals.

Can it happen with someone not named Riley?

"Right now, they have a chance," said Steve Smith. "They didn't have a chance last year and that's where the patience ran dry."

Kenny Smith took more than seven seconds in answering the question about whether the D'Antoni system will ultimately work with the Lakers.

"They're gonna play better," he said. "You can run a Princeton offense or a half-court set, but it can't be a steady diet. It's gotta be the dessert.

"It couldn't be their diet. I thought that was their diet. I felt they took too long into the shot clock and taking the shot. Who is the best coach in the business at letting you take the shot early in the shot clock? D'Antoni."

In the five games under Brown, the number of shots the Lakers attempted averaged 73.6. They took 92 shots in Friday's victory over Phoenix. Another number to ponder, for fun, in the midst of the original "Showtime," the Lakers averaged 88.3 shots per game in the 1986-87 season.

That, of course, was long ago, a bygone era. And this isn't going to be Phoenix Part II, despite the presence of point guard Steve Nash. Nash was twice the league's most valuable player when he played for D'Antoni in their four seasons together.

D'Antoni, at his introductory news conference Thursday, touched on his days with the Suns and the Knicks. He said it took Nash about an hour and half to pick up the offense when Nash first got to Phoenix.

"We'll get the other guys up to snuff," D'Antoni said. "But the process should not be long and it should not be tedious at all."

Nash has the most NBA history with D'Antoni, but Kobe Bryant has shared experiences with his new coach at the international level. D'Antoni was an assistant on the staff of Team USA at the Olympics in 2008 and 2012. Bryant played for both gold-medal winning teams.

"What's most interesting to me is that the personnel is so different from what Mike had in Phoenix," said TNT's Steve Kerr, who was the Suns' general manager when D'Antoni was in Phoenix.

"Obviously [Nash] is the point guard, but he had shooters, guys who could really run the floor, get out in transition. This [Lakers] team is totally different. Two dominant, low-post men. Not a very fast team. He can't just plug these players into his old system. He's going to have to tweak some things and figure out how to best make it work."

Kenny Smith's criticism of the Lakers, pre-coaching change, was that they did not have enough possessions for the amount of talent they had on the roster.

"It's a simple theory: If you give Kobe, Dwight [Howard], Steve and [Pau] Gasol 100 shots, and you give the other team 100 shots, they're going to make more shots," Smith said. "I don't care what defense, offense you've got. They're just better players. That's it."

Twitter: @reallisa

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