By Varon Laub
The NBA world has been abuzz with shock, amazement and perhaps bewilderment over the latest chapter in the drama that is the Lakeshow. After talking with Phil Jackson, the coaching Zen Master that led the Chicago Bulls to six championships and 5 more with the Lakers, about returning to his head coaching position in Lakerland, the Lakers pulled an unexpected move very early one morning and hired Mike D’antoni to replace Mike Brown, the unfortunate scapegoat to the Lakers early troubles to start this season.
So then, why choose D’Antoni? Of course there are likely monetary reasons and demands that Phil Jackson may have made besides a ridiculous paycheck. Perhaps despite the way the two parted Phil decided he didn’t want the job, but didn’t want all the hoopla and press questioning why not, so it’s easier if the Laker organization makes the call. We’ll probably never know all the reasons. Laying all that aside I’d like to present a different reason. In short, this Laker team, both as individuals and as a unit have a lot to prove.
What do I mean by that? Well, consider Kobe. Some may say he’s proved himself completely, and in all fairness the man’s got game and the accolades to prove it. But what is the one thing Kobe has not done? The one thing not even Jordan managed to do. Win a championship without Coach Phil by his side. And of course there’s that 6th ring he has yet to earn.
Or what about Ron Artest, now World Peace? With an image of violence and anger issues tarnishing his name, Mr. World Peace has everything to prove, on and off the court, and after last year’s elbow to James Harden, one has to wonder if he can. Will good behavior and a championship ring help his cause?
Then there’s Pau Gasol, the Laker who’s credited with the Laker’s resurgence to power after Shaq left, who is also blamed for their fall in the last couple of seasons. Has he lost a step? Maybe. Is he still 7 foot and one of the best power forward/centers out there? Sure. But will that translate into the winning ways he and his skills brought to the Lakers after he came from the Grizzles? That depends largely on him.
How about Dwight Howard, who had his own version of “The Decision” play out over the last year with a swirl of trade rumors, firings for his supposed benefit and ultimately landing in Los Angeles. Has it tarnished his name forever in the eyes of many NBA fans? The man is monster on the court, and an unequaled defensive presence in today’s NBA, but does not have a ring to show for it. Not to mention his injuries. Is he still the same Dwight Howard who dominated much the same way Wilt Chamberlin and Bill Russell did in their own day? Only time will tell.
Lastly, there’s Steve Nash. I don’t think anyone would argue he’s a Top 5 point guard all time, and probably the best of his generation(Jason Kidd might have something to say about that). His ability to distribute the ball and his hard-nosed, gritty approach to the game of basketball is both dazzling to watch and something to be respected. However, he has yet to earn the elusive championship ring and stands in danger of becoming the next John Stockton-a hall of fame point guard without a ring. Something to prove? Definitely.
Then of course there’s the team as a whole. Touted as championship favorites before the ink dried on the deal for Howard, they slipped to 1-4 in the opening days of the new season. Granted, their team was not whole, they were operating under a new system, and of course with new teammates who need time to gel. Miami’s Big 3 had a rough start to their first season too, people soon forget. Still, this is a team with much to prove.
So why wouldn’t this Laker team, who has everything to prove not choose D’Antoni as head coach? Who has more to prove than he? Not Jerry Sloan, who’s style led the Jazz to two NBA Finals and nearly every single playoffs for the years he coached. Not Phil Jackson who has proven himself head and shoulders above any other coach(only legendary Celtics coach Red Auerbach can come close to claiming the level of success Phil has had). So if not one of those two, why not D’Antoni?
Afterall, D’Antoni’s the man who coached a remarkable Phoenix Suns team in lightning fast basketball that took the NBA by storm and made watching the game all the more exciting, but ultimately failed to produce a championship. He’s the man who left the Suns midseason when they picked up Shaq and he knew his style of play wouldn’t hold up. He’s the man who took the reins of a star-studded Knicks club with great expectations, only to be fired when they didn’t mesh as the Knicks organization had hoped. Could anyone need to prove themselves more than D’Antoni?
With all this, maybe, just maybe, the Lakers organization was looking for just such a man, just such a team. Talented, hungry, and with everything to prove. Are they the team that will win it all? No one can say just yet, but with everything to prove and the pressure at its highest, even if you’re not a Lakers fan, you have to be interested to see if this team can rise to the occasion. So that is why D’Antoni was brought in, why this team was put together, and it’s all on them to go out and prove themselves. As an NBA fan, I say bring it on!