Tag Archives: Mike D’Antoni

Defending the Triangle: A Theory on Why the Lakers Passed on Phil Jackson

I haven’t published a post since November 1st. That’s the longest I’ve gone without writing something in quite some time, and truth be told, over the last couple weeks I’ve been pretty out of touch with what’s happened in the sports world. I had good reason though. I got married on October 27th and was on my honeymoon until until November 13. I promised my wife that during the honeymoon I wouldn’t do any writing for the Couchletes. I also didn’t check email during the trip. So I came back refreshed, rejuvenated and tan still pale… (I burn instead of tan so SPF 50 was my best friend) to find that my fellow Couchletes published a grand total of zero posts during my absence. Apparently it was a break from writing for all of us… The wedding did give us a chance to all hang out together, in person, as a group for the first time ever though.

While during the honeymoon I didn’t follow sports as much as I usually do, there was one story that really caught my eye – the firing of Mike Brown by the Lakers and the subsequent hiring of Mike D’Antoni. A story this big has already been covered by, well, everyone (except Rahul, who I was expecting would have something to say about it), so I don’t need to recant it for you. I do however, want to give my perspective on an aspect of it that hasn’t been covered yet. It’s my theory on why the Lakers management chose D’Antoni over previous Lakers coach and 11-time world champion coach, Phil Jackson.

The official story from Laker GM Mitch Kupchak is that D’Antoni was the unanimous choice by owner Jerry Buss, senior team official (and Jerry’s son) Jim Buss and Kupchak. The story also goes that the three decided on D’Antoni solely for basketball reasons and that issues like salary (Jackson is expensive) and travel (Jackson has voiced a preference for not going on long road trips) did not play any part in the decision.

I’m not buying it. Let’s take them at their word though, at least on part of the rationale. Let’s say that the cost of Jackson and side issues like a special travel schedule for him played no part in the decision. What basketball issues would make them lean toward D’Antoni, a fine coach, but one who has won nothing? Apparently, much of the decision revolved around Jackson’s famed Triangle offense. So why would Kupchak and the Buss family not want the triangle?

The Intelligence Factor
It’s come out that it was difficult for the current Lakers team to pick up former coach Mike Brown’s Princeton-style offense. Lakers management thought that given that, it would be just as difficult for the team to now learn Jackson’s similar triangle offense. Who exactly are the players that they think would have trouble learning the triangle? Ron Artest Metta World Peace learned it… Who do they think would struggle? If Peace learned it, I’m pretty sure the rest of them could.

The Big Man
Some would say the triangle isn’t designed to be run by a team with a talented big man like Dwight Howard, pointing at Jackson’s days of running the offense in Chicago with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and such world renowned centers such as Bill Wennington, Stacey King and Luc Longley. My counter to that? Shaq ran it. He did pretty well, no?

The Point Guard
Some would also say the triangle isn’t designed for a team with a talented point guard like Steve Nash, pointing at the likes of BJ Armstrong, Derek Fisher and Ron Harper, who all ran the offense under Jackson. They think the offense holds back a talented point guard by moving the ball around too much (doing the job of a traditional point guard to some degree). Steve Nash is a smart guy though, a smart guy that wants to win a title. He doesn’t care about his personal stats anymore, he wants to win. And for those not knowledgeable of the triangle offense – it’s designed to open up opportunities for everyone. Why do you think Jackson ran it while having such stars as Jordan and Kobe? Because it forced a defense to stay honest and not overcommit to the star on the team. Second point – do you really think a smart coach like Jackson wouldn’t make some adjustments to it to take advantage of Nash’s talents?

Any other reasons the Triangle wouldn’t work for the Lakers? I can’t think of any…

Here’s my theory:
The Buss family and Kupchak knew that if they brought in Jackson, everyone would expect the team to win now. If they didn’t win, the blame wouldn’t go to 11-time champ Jackson. He’s won everywhere he’s been with every personality type. Senior management spent considerable money to bring in Howard and Nash. It’s more likely that the blame would shift to Kupchak, Jim and Jerry for spending money on high priced assets that didn’t integrate well enough and left the team without a bench. They knew if they brought in D’Antoni, they’d see a faster paced offense that LA fans would love and they’d have one more scapegoat if things didn’t pan out.

So I don’t think the decision came down to the Triangle offense or any other basketball reasons. I think it was ego and a case of CYA, quite simply.