Shawn Marion, fiercely proud and a little defensive, was fond of telling reporters during the height of the Seven Seconds or Less Era in Phoenix that players made “genius” coaches like Mike D’Antoni look good.
Marion is obviously oversimplifying. Head coaches are hugely important, maybe third on the importance hierarchy in any franchise, behind only the owner and the franchise superstar (if one is present). There are a few reasons why Chicago will rank among the three or five best defensive teams this season and going forward, but Tom Thibodeau’s presence is probably the biggest factor.
But a coach can only work with the players on hand, and the Lakers’ roster brings some structural issues — largely outlined here — that were going to challenge whomever the team named as Mike Brown’s in-season replacement. In a shocking reversal, they’ve chosen D’Antoni’s spread pick-and-roll system over the triangle and Phil Jackson, whose salary demands and requests for broader organizational control were apparently too much for the Buss family, per the Los Angeles Times and others. Inking D’Antoni to a three-year deal, with an option for a fourth season, may also be a signal that the Lakers believe his style is a better fit for the only pieces — Steve Nash and Dwight Howard — on the books beyond 2013-14, assuming the Lakers convince Howard to re-sign this summer on a max deal.