I woke up this morning sure I was going to be writing an article about the hiring of Phil Jackson in L.A. and the betting impact that would have on the Lakers going forward. Imagine my surprise, then, to be writing instead about new boss Mike D’Antoni.
As of last night the stories were that Jackson was all but a done deal — his agent was even reportedly on his way to L.A. to iron out the final details. Now, though, the most successful coach in NBA history is pouting on the sidelines while the Lakers get ready to run like they have never run before. Time will tell whether this bold move is the right one, but it’s never too soon to look at the situation and try to figure out what it all means for bettors:
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D’Antoni is lower risk
It has been argued that D’Antoni is a high-risk pick because of his lack of previous playoff success and his offbeat stylistic choices. I would argue, though, that he is actually a lower-risk choice than Jackson. For one, he has a connection with more of the core of the team, but we’ll touch on that more later. More significantly, though, he’s far more likely to be a team player. Jackson’s downfall seems to be that he believed he was the savior, and he wanted to be treated as such — a massive salary, an ownership stake in the team, control of his roster, and the ability to skip road trips if he didn’t feel like it. Combine that diva attitude with the health concerns that led to his retirement and you have a situation that could easily have gone off the rails. D’Antoni is less volatile, and this team has enough volatility and drama on board as it is.
Hungry to win
It’s partly because D’Antoni has never won the big prize that I think he is the right choice. He is good enough to have won, and he knows that he now has his best possible chance to get a championship — and likely his last if he doesn’t get it done here. That hunger combined with the talent he has to work with should be a strong motivating factor — and should help him do what needs to be done to get a title.
D’Antoni has obvious and strong ties to Steve Nash — both men made the other what they are today. D’Antoni’s ties go deeper with this team than that, though. He was an assistant coach at the Olympics this year, and he and Kobe have a solid relationship as a result. He was also an assistant at the 2006 World Championships, and he worked with Dwight Howard there. That means that three of the four star players on this team have at least a working relationship with him — which is more than Jackson would have had. In Nash, D’Antoni also has the perfect weapon to run his offense — once he is healthy. I do have a concern that Kobe, who is more and more of a baby as he ages, could feel slighted that ‘his coach’ wasn’t picked and ‘Nash’ coach’ was — especially if things don’t start out well or if Bryant struggles to adapt to the new system — but that is offset somewhat by the certainty that this decision wouldn’t have been made without Kobe’s blessing.
Defensive woes are overstated and misunderstood
Critics of D’Antoni will say that he is offensively potent but defensively negligent. Those people just don’t get it. Sure, D’Antoni’s teams allow a lot of points. That’s because they play at a ridiculously fast tempo, though. When a team scores quickly their opponent gets more chances to score, so they inevitably will score more often. The fact is that D’Antoni’s offenses are dominant and his defenses, when adjusted for tempo, and pretty much average. Factor in a truly elite defender like Howard into this system and you have a chance for much better-than-average defensive play — and much better than average success as a result.
The biggest short-term concern is that the D’Antoni system relies on players who can drain three pointers when needed to. It’s hard to find that player on this Laker roster. That means that either some changes will have to be made — and a lot of viable, low-cost possibilities exist — or D’Antoni will have to tailor his system to what he has. To me this is the biggest question mark, and the aspect that bettors most closely need to watch.
Changes are significant in short term
Mike Brown focused on defense above all. D’Antoni is pretty much the opposite. The changes are going to be significant and striking, and they will initially have to be done without the familiarity of Steve Nash to make them work. There really isn’t massive urgency — all they need to do is to be comfortable in time to round into playoff form. In the short term, though, the transition could lead to some strange and perhaps unpredictable performances from this team. Combine that with the perception much of the public will have that they made a mistake in overlooking Jackson and bettors will have to be very cautious dealing with this team until we have had the time to fully understand what we are dealing with. There is a lot of emotion in this situation, and a lot of national coverage — complete with the opinions of a million experts. When those things combine the betting public can go crazy, and lines can be particularly challenging. Unlike Brown, though, D’Antoni almost certainly isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so you can afford to be patient to be sure of what you are betting on before you jump in.