What’s being portrayed and psychoanalyzed as a difference in coaching temperaments in Los Angeles these days might, in fact, relate to something much simpler.
All the talk comparing and contrasting new Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni with predecessor Mike Brown and with gold standard Phil Jackson might be off the mark, as far it relates to personalities and the ability to lead and inspire men. It might be as basic as D’Antoni being seen as the relief valve from the early-season disappointments under Brown – and thus, having more in common with Jackson’s happy times, even if the new guy hasn’t coached in The Finals or won anyone even one ring.
As for the warm embrace D’Antoni has gotten from the Lakers players, it might be even more simple than that: offense vs. defense.
Coaching, teaching and playing defense, let’s face it, has a negative orientation to it. It’s all about avoiding bad results, rather than actively creating good ones. There hasn’t been a shutout yet in the NBA but that remains an ideal for a lot of defensive-minded coaches, who can nitpick a botched close-out or a bad route around a screen even when the shots don’t drop.
Offense is different. Players love scoring and coaches who craft their reputations there can stroll into a dysfunctional situation (such as the Lakers) and be welcomed with open arms. By definition, they’re preaching fun vs. hard work and active, positive rewards every time the ball goes through the net.
From the inside, Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register focuses more on confidence and leader-of-men stuff:
Kobe Bryant put all three coaches in context recently by saying there is one broad commonality between D’Antoni and Jackson (and, by implication, not Brown):
Bryant said both D’Antoni and Jackson are skilled in their ways of “not micro-managing the team.”
Brown believed just as strongly in his basic defensive blueprint as D’Antoni does in his offensive one, but Brown’s overall confidence in what he knew just didn’t translate into trust in him from his players. D’Antoni might sound like a slick salesman at times, but you know that he totally believes in his product.
It’s just the latest demonstration of how the most important thing about coaching a professional sports team is being able to inspire.
The Lakers, even before [Steve] Nash unveils his magic act, believe in what D’Antoni believes. Carmelo Anthony aside, it’s the way it has always been for D’Antoni and all the past players he has empowered.
That is because he empowers by trusting. There is nothing freer than a basketball bird with a license to shoot and unafraid of getting benched for a mistake — two of D’Antoni’s core principles.
We already see it just in the way Metta World Peace is more certain of himself, Pau Gasol is more decisive than in years, Jodie Meeks is more comfortable in his own skin and [Darius] Morris is more youthful-energy infusion than Devin Ebanks ever was despite all that playing time Brown gave him.
From the outside, though, this might be as simple as being freed up from Mom or Dad and their incessant demands to eat vegetables. It’s always more fun to have a sleepover at Uncle Mike’s, where the fridge is stocked with ice cream and pop and no one says a word about bedtime.