The Pelicans are done with Monty Williams, to some fans' chagrin. Although Williams split the opinion of fans and was far from the most popular coach, the cloudy nature surrounding the decision and the failure to alert Anthony Davis, you know the future MVP who could derail the future of the Pelicans with a knock on Demps' door, perplexed some Pelicans fans. However, temporary outrage could lead to permanent pride if the Pelicans get the hiring right. If they don't, the consequences could be catastrophic, including the loss of a certain franchise player. So with that being said, let's dive into who the serious candidates for the job are, starting with Mike D'Antoni.
D'Antoni is a tenured NBA coach, with experience winning. However, that experience will be lost on anyone with a 'what have you done for me lately?' mindset. D'Antoni has underperformed for with every team he's taken over since leaving Phoenix. With the Knicks, he failed to win more than 42 games in a season, despite having Melo and Stoudemire. Then, he went to LA, finishing year one with a 42-30 record only to be fired the next year after going 27-55, albeit without Kobe.
So, on the face of things, he doesn't appear to be the guy. However, there are always deeper reasons behind coaching collapses, like the Melo-Amare duo's fragility during his years with New York. And the Lakers were always restrained by Kobe's contract, meaning when he didn't play, it was an impossible inquisition of D'Antoni to win.
Also, both teams were bad fits just because of age. D'Antoni was in both cases more of a bad hire than a bad coach, as the aging teams would face younger teams who would happily oblige to run. You could fault D'Antoni for not altering his system based on the composition of his team, but the run-and-gun is what he knows. It sacrifices help defense, post defense, and rebounding for the chaotic scramble of players jostling to get into a shooting position. With the right team, it has proven to work.
Let's rewind to D'Antoni's dreamy days with the Phoenix Suns.
Churning out an average defense with "starting center Amare Stoudemire" is a remarkable feat. But yeah, he's a one-way coach. Right.— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) May 12, 2015
Yeah, safe to say that's not too shabby given the presence of Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire on the same defensive end. Could Davis and Holiday possibly be the new Nash and Stoudamire offensively, except defensively impenetrable and prove more effective rebounders? Well, I must admit that idea has me salivating and I'm sure the rest of the basketball world shaking. If D'Antoni could replicate his offensive success while improving his defense, then we have a winner in the coaching carousel.
The question is can he. Any team with such a run-and-gun style is prone to defensive lapses and will have chronic fatigue problems, requiring a deep bench. The Pelicans would also need a post defender who can run the floor; there are very few in the league, and neither Asik nor Ajinca is one (remember what I said about Brandan Wright, though). And while Haberstroh is right about the lack of defense on that team, he forgets that they had Shawn Marion, one of the greatest, most versatile defenders of his generation. Although AD blocks, steals, and can D up any power forward in the league, he is not the one-on-one, wallpaper-on-wall stopper that Marion gave the Suns.
That defender might be on the team, however. Jrue Holiday's length, quickness, and hands make him stalwart perimeter defender. Stocky point guards can't post him up, quick ones have trouble losing him, and fast ones usually can't dispel his immediate presence. He's the guy that, with a little more agility, could guard the opposition's perimeter terrorizer, and switch onto anybody. That's what Marion did. We know AD can guard his man and block the eight-foot floater (something nobody on the Suns could do), so if Holiday could subdue the stars of the other teams, this has a chance.
And believe you me, this does have a chance. The Pelicans have their star big man in Anthony Davis, their franchise point guard in Jrue Holiday, their sniper in Eric Gordon, and their fearless, rumbling, wrecking ball penetrator in Tyreke Evans. All can run in transition. The second unit as well could handle some of the bustle, with Norris Cole, Ryan Anderson, and Quincy Pondexter all well-equipped. But the Pelicans would have to find two new centers... unless D'Antoni budged and tweaked the system.
Asik and Ajinca are two big men who could learn a few things when it comes to transition, but it is sadly too late for them to. So why not adjust the system? Make sure Asik is rebounding while everyone else runs in transition. Have Asik trail, and if the transition game is fruitless, allow him to immediately set a screen to ensue the chaos all over again. If the fast break is converted, then Asik is already there to prevent any quick responses. It's a strange plan, but it could work. And it would mean Asik's absence on offense, but a maintained defensive stay for him.
The beauty, alacrity, and fervidity of this pinball play would draw fans to the newest New Orleans party. AD's stats would explode, as would Holiday and many other Pelicans. The pick-and-role would remain the go-to play in the half court set, something the Pelicans are quite experienced at running.
Yeah, I'm dreaming well right now; however, all of this would hinge on the health of Holiday and Davis, which unfortunately has become a mandatory concern. Moreover, this would rely on the assumption that D'Antoni's system still works in this day and age of multi-star teams that play team basketball, where every pass is calculated. It could be a lot harder to create havoc against teams like the Spurs, Warriors, and Hawks than it was in 2006. Then, there are considerations of safer options and keeping Davis happy. I'll discuss even more problems later.
Yet, don't you get a feeling of optimism when D'Antoni's name is mentioned? Maybe it's the classic, Tobias Funke mishap that led the Lakers to hire D'Antoni and adopt his crazy run-and-gun. It never works for anybody, but it might just work for us.
I started off this article prepared to bash D'Antoni. After all, he felt like the Knicks and Lakers were a comparatively good fit but a distressing lack of wins followed at both stops. However, the more I read, the less faults I found with a D'Antoni strategy because of the Pels' young wings and balance. It would even neutralize the Asik offensive black hole if done correctly. It could also allow the Pelicans to opt for a quicker, slight-of-step center who could save some money (I hint at Wright, yet again).
At the end of the day, though, a few things still ruffle my feathers when considering D'Antoni for coach.
Firstly, only one team to win a championship in the three point era played so fast, and that was the showtime Lakers led by Magic Johnson. That's who the Pelicans would have to equate to in order to win a championship in a speedy system. Now, it's possible with a player like AD and such a young, multi-talented roster. But that is still a high heaven to try for.
And the team with the best chance since those Lakers might be this year's Golden State. They play great defense, while still playing an allegro tempo. They don't just speed ahead blindly, but start moving immediately and cohesively after they regain possession to look for an open shot. So, if the Pelicans try to emulate that, why not hire Warriors associate coach Alvin Gentry?
Secondly, D'Antoni's recent failures still are horribly worrying. I cannot believe that I am seriously entertaining the possibility of hiring a coach who got fired from both the Knicks and Lakers. Bad fits or not, those were some miserable displays of basketball on the center stage.
Thirdly, I wonder whether this team is has too strong of a defensive base to throw the towel over. With AD, Asik, and Holiday, Thibodeau, the anti-D'Antoni, might be able to elicit a better end record than his competition. It's the overarching offense-defense debate, and I have "defense wins championships" tatted on my right bicep (not really, but I'm sure my dad would love that).
Fourthly and lastly, does D'Antoni cap his teams? With all of the glory days of the Suns, they never progressed further than the Western Conference Finals despite years of prosperity and back-to-back MVP's for Steve Nash. At the end of the day, that's why D'Antoni had to go to New York. Although playoffs are fine for now, you don't want to confine a team like the Pelicans and a limitless talent like Davis. D'Antoni's system might reach a point where, against teams like the Warriors, Spurs, and Hawks, it can't work because of the other team's efficiency and equanimity.
My final verdict on D'Antoni is he's a risk, and one that is only worth taking if a deal cannot be reached with a safer (if not necessarily better) alternative. Although he could hypothetically lead the Pels to a utopia where they would score a lot and win a lot, I feel like my quixotic tendencies might be getting the better of me. Many other systems could work in NO, others that are more proven and more dependable, others that might not risk the future of AD. While D'Antoni could bring us the most exciting basketball we've seen since the region's Jazz was played through a Pistol, his recent missteps are partially his own doing, and if he would not be willing to grow with a dynamic young team, he is not the right fit.
The enticing possibilities with a run-and-gun draw so many in, but the Pelicans need to make sure run-and-gun doesn't mean fun-and-done.