Trouble In River City For D’Antoni and Lakers

Published on: 14th December, 2012


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New York –Make no mistake about the Mike D’Antoni-coached Los Angeles Lakers. As the song goes, there’s trouble in River City and there seems no short-term solution to what appears to be a long-term problem.

Like Harold Hill, the fictional fast-talking huckster in the Broadway hit show, The Music Man, D’Antoni, once an NBA coach with a sterling reputation, seems to have sold himself into another lose-lose situation with the aging, lifeless Lakers after his three-year stint with the aging, lifeless Knicks put pock marks into what had been a solid career legacy.

Instead of promising 76 Trombones In The Great Parade, as Harold Hill did, D’Antoni promises wins, exciting high-scoring wins. But, when the people of River City became suspicious when little Suzie couldn’t play one note of her trombone, so, too will Lakers fans begin to question D’Antoni’s practices.

Fast forward to 2012 and it’s easy to slot Mike D’Antoni into the Professor Hill position.  He’s now on his third town, where the fans have high expectations that his reputation for offensive genius will mold their team into a cohesive, high-scoring, winning unit.

The problem is, D’Antoni, hired by the Lakers after just five games (1-4)  under the previous coach, Mike Brown, hasn’t been a winning coach in four years, or since he last coached Steve Nash in Phoenix. Back then, he was good at winning regular season games but rarely went deep into the playoffs since his teams usually had problems stopping the other teams from scoring.

Then, D’Antoni took his show on the road to New York, where he led the Knicks to three losing years under his speed ball offensive system. His excuse was always related to not having a penetrating, pass-first point guard who could properly run his offensive system.

In a bit of history repeating itself, D’Antoni has been handed a roster that once again seems mismatched with the offensive systems D’Antoni became famous for when he coached the Phoenix Suns, then led by point guard Steve Nash. No doubt, D’Antoni was offered this job because the Lakers happened to have signed the free agent point guard, Steve Nash during the off-season and, who better to incorporate Nash’s talents with Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, and Pau Gasol than the guy who did it once before, D’Antoni.

Except, Nash, nearing the age of 39, hasn’t played a second for D’Antoni since fracturing the fibula in his left leg during the third game of the season. Yet, just as D’Antoni, as Knicks coach waited, along with the rest of the Knicks organization for the big free-agent signing of LeBron James to turn around their moribund franchise, he now waits for an aging Nash to do the same for the Lakers and to somehow mesh the talents of what appears to be a selection of mismatched, slow, aging skills.

D’Antoni’s Lakers came into New York to face the Knicks tonight, but everything about this matchup felt differently than it has in several years.

Instead of the Lakers having the swagger and the confidence that comes with being a perennial contender for NBA championships, it was the Knicks who were the confident bunch coming in. With tonight’s 116-107 loss to the Knicks in front of a pumped-up Madison Square Garden sellout crowd, the Lakers lost their fourth straight game and fell to a 8-10 record under D’Antoni.

The reception for the Knicks ex-coach was no surprise at Madison Square Garden on Thursday. D’Antoni was booed, loudly and passionately, when he was introduced — the price he paid for failing to produce a consistent winner in three-plus seasons with the Knicks and for clashing with Carmelo Anthony.

D’Antoni resigned as the Knicks’ coach in March, with the team underachieving and Anthony, the franchise star, rebelling against his leadership. The Knicks’ fortunes changed under Mike Woodson’s no-nonsense approach, and Anthony — by his own admission — played harder.

Woodson now looks like a coach of the year candidate. Anthony is an early favorite for most valuable player. D’Antoni looks miserable, which surely pleased his many detractors in the Garden stands.

He spent much of the game with a scowl on his face and his arms folded, appearing not so different than he did many nights as the Knicks’ coach.

The Lakers, like some of those old Knicks teams, are depleted and in disarray, having lost 9 of 12 games while waiting for Steve Nash, their All-Star point guard, to get healthy. They are also playing without Pau Gasol (who has two sore knees) and with a diminished Dwight Howard (who is recovering from back surgery).

Lakers Knicks Basketball.JPEGAnthony scored 30 points in 23 minutes

“It’s not fair,” said Kobe Bryant, who scored 31 points in the futile comeback effort. He added: “It’s been a huge adjustment for all of us, and we have some figuring out to do. We have some key pieces out. When they come back, we’ll get this thing locked and loaded.”

Bryant, now nursing a sore back and painful knees, is at the tail-end of his Hall of Fame career. He knows he doesn’t have time to waste in his pursuit of another championship. But, looking into his eyes after tonight’s game as he discussed the current state of the Lakers, he also doesn’t know if D’Antoni is the coach who can help get him that championship ring, either.

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