Mike D’Antoni has been in this position before, but not quite to this extent. During his days coaching the Phoenix Suns, D’Antoni had to cope with losing then-Suns go-to big man Amar’e Stoudemire for basically an entire season in 2005-2006, a season where the Suns finished 54-28 and advanced to the Western Conference finals behind an MVP season from Steve Nash. But this current dilemma with the Los Angeles Lakers is much different.
The Lakers not only are without Dwight Howard for the foreseeable future, they will also be without maligned post player Pau Gasol and energetic reserve Jordan Hill, leaving the Lakers with Antawn Jamison, Earl Clark and rookie Robert Sacre as the only true “big” men healthy. And although the injuries may seem demoralizing for a 15-18 Lakers team set to begin the most challenging stretch of their schedule, the depleted roster could be a blessing in disguise for D’Antoni’s system.
When the Suns lost Stoudemire in ‘05-06, there offensive focus shifted to even more of a quicker perimeter team than before. Boris Diaw had a career year as a face-up hybrid 4/5. Shawn Marion was at his peak as a versatile wing. The team as a whole became more agile and balanced. D’Antoni’s 2005-06 Suns team lead the NBA with 108.4 points per game, as well as field goal attempts, field goal makes and assists by playing at an accelerated pace to make up for the lack of a true post presence. And it worked.
It isn’t a stretch to believe that something similar could occur with the Lakers. Jamison will have the opportunity to play the hybrid stretch 4/5 position he seems like a perfect fit for in D’Antoni’s offense. Metta World Peace’s value as an offensive threat will be increased. Kobe Bryant with be, well, Kobe. The Lakers reserve role players will have an opportunity to produce in a faster-paced gameplan. The Lakers basically have no choice but to play a smaller, faster brand of basketball, countering what has been one of their Achilles heels this entire season; lack of consistent effort and team speed from their primary players (specifically Howard and Gasol).
Whether or not the Lakers have success with this type of play comes down to how good of a coach Mike D’Antoni really is. Great coaches adjust when their team struggles. Even though the Lakers have lost three post players virtually overnight, the pieces remaining on their roster are good enough for L.A. to remain competitive, if utilized properly and with Steve Nash being the main common denominator.
The Lakers’ defense will still have holes, but effort and age won’t be to blame. This is when D’Antoni must prove if he is a just another good coach or a great one.