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Mike D'Antoni set up to fail again - this time in an even more spectacular fashion

Jamie Squire

In some ways, I am envious of Mike D'Antoni's ability to keep getting the better and better gigs based on a three-year run of excitement and wonder with the mid-market Phoenix Suns.

And in other ways, I feel sorry for him.

First it happened in Phoenix. Then it happened on a bigger stage in New York with the rebuilding, then suddenly contending, Knicks.

Now, as if history won't repeat itself in the very land that glorifies and bases its entire economy on this concept, Mike D'Antoni is getting another chance to prove that his style can win a championship on the biggest stage of all.

Like the surprisingly popular book-turned-movie "The Hunger Games", Mike has been pulled out of the gutter, buffed, plucked and waxed by a host of media stylists, and trotted onto the stage to be introduced as the next great hope.

"Introducing... from District 12... the boy on fire... Mike D'Annnntoooonnniiiiii...!"

D'Antoni is being paraded around the city of lights, touted for his great skills, earning bandwagon fans from every corner of the globe, all while in the background skeptics are scheming and betting against him.

D'Antoni first came to Phoenix with the promise of a great offense that would overcome any defensive deficiencies simply by outscoring the opponent.

"If you've got the best team," he said when prompted this week. "Why wouldn't you play the most possessions that you can play defensively and offensively? Any time the possessions are cut down, then a bad call, a missed shot, you've got a chance to lose.

"But if we keep the possessions up here, to me we've got a lot better chance to win when we're playing a lot of reps."

Ask San Antonio and Dallas how that strategy works in the playoffs. Heck, ask Kobe even. Ultimately, the Suns lost in the playoffs each year to a team that could force the Suns to prove that theory. They slowed down the pace, or kept it fast and loose, but still knew that as long as the Suns didn't get more possessions than they did (which is mathematically impossible), games really DID come down to a bad call, a missed shot and a chance to lose 4 out of 7.

Asked if that was his problem, to be outcoached in those last few possessions of a tight game no matter how many total possessions there were, D'Antoni said:

"You're not going to outcoach other coaches. Everybody's too prepared. Everybody works too hard to think that I'm going to sit there and figure out something that they haven't figured out. You just don't do that.

"Players have to eventually be accountable and they have to be the ones to go win the game for you."

Suns fans recognize those comments by Mike D'Antoni. We lived and breathed them for several years, and lamented losses each year in the playoffs to "inferior" teams who got lucky or cheated their way to a series win. We said that defense doesn't matter as long you score better than the other team.

We believed in Mike, until eventually enough playoff losses caused us to question the methodology. At some point, we came around to the notion that, gee, it sure would be nice to focus at least a little bit on getting stops rather than the next scoring opportunity.

Mike's teams were always okay on defense, ranking between 13th and 21st in efficiency, while boasting the leagues most efficient offense. That wins a lot of regular season games, but doesn't help you beat great teams that are prepared for you and ready to outwork you.

Phoenix figured that out as they gave D'Antoni a long, long leash. Eventually, he left on his own in a huff within 24 hours of another heartbreaking playoff loss to the Spurs. He didn't want his GM telling him to tweak his philosophy - to add a defensive assistant to the staff.

So Mike left for a new, bigger stage - New York. Sure enough, the media there built him up for a couple of years while downplaying his lack of defensive mindset, only to tear him down when he was finally given the players to succeed but failed to do so.

"I left Steve once, and it didn't work out too well for me," he said this week with a light-hearted chuckle.

Again, D'Antoni left New York in a huff, resigning his position mid-season because it just so frustrating for him.

Two teams, two resignations when his teams came up short of expectations.

So where better to go than LA, owners of the highest expectations in the league and 18 NBA championships? Things couldn't possibly go wrong. Right?

"We're built to win this year," D'Antoni said Thursday. "This is not a project. We have a window and we're going to try and get through it."

Get through it he will, with four Hall of Famers in his starting lineup but arguably the league's most fragile contender and worst bench.

But that's not stopping national and LA media from blowing this up with expectations. As Ken Berger of puts it in a column yesterday after D'Antoni's press conference:

The more he explained what he believes in and how the talent-rich Lakers can thrive under his free-wheeling, player-driven style like no other team he's coached, the more his critics presumably slumped in their chairs.


If D'Antoni's debut on the court is anything close to as entertaining and informative as his debut in front of a microphone, then behold the return of the Showtime era in L.A.

Berger goes on to poo-poo "those who've bought the silly notion that D'Antoni can't win in the playoffs with a style built strictly around bringing out his players' talent."

Suddenly, D'Antoni is the golden child once again. He's ready to prove all of his critics wrong. Everyone loves him and loves his style. His reputation and coaching resume have been buffed, waxed and primped.

All I can say is this, Mike:

May the odds be ever in your favor.

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