Mike D'Antoni and Dwight Howard compare notes (Getty Images)
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and the amount of smoke emanating from the rumors of Dwight Howard’s displeasure with Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni would leave Smokey the Bear with a furrowed brow and crossed arms. Howard joined many in observance of the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers in not liking D’Antoni’s offensive schemes, and though the Lakers coach has his caveats in hand (injuries, no training camp, the 28-12 run to end the season), it’s fair to say that the Lakers’ 2012-13 turn was about as disappointing as NBA seasons come.
This, and the team’s uncertain future, are the biggest reasons why Howard bolted to Houston earlier in July. The Rockets introduced Howard this week alongside the team’s lineage of great big men – featuring Elvin Hayes, Ralph Sampson, Hakeem Olajuwon and Yao Ming amongst the lot – while talking up the All-Star center’s ability to groove under coach Kevin McHale’s supposedly pivot-centric plan.
There’s one problem. McHale was known for his brilliance in the low post as a player, but in Houston last season he let the guards run the show, and the Rox finished with the highest Pace Factor in the NBA last year. No team ran more than Houston, which kind of flies in the face of Howard’s hope for a slow and low game plan for 2013-14.
Don’t think D’Antoni hasn’t noticed. From the Los Angeles Daily News:
In fact, D'Antoni noticed a bit of irony in Howard choosing Houston, considering the Rockets run an offense every bit as wide open as the one D'Antoni prefers and the one Howard resisted conforming to last year.
"The thing that cracks me up is Houston, they do the exact same thing," D'Antoni said, laughing. "And so (Howard) is gonna go to Houston? OK, so did they talk about change there? Don't tell me that it's that different."
D'Antoni wishes Howard well, but does think he needs to accept what makes him a special player rather than envision himself as something he isn't yet and may never be.
"He's a force and he can be really, really good and dominate the league," D'Antoni said. "But it's in an area that he's not loving right now. He wants to dominate a different way, in the low post and all that. But he needs to get better there, and he will. But his greatness is in defense and being a physical force. I think he'd be better served if he embraces that.
"But he's good."
He is good. And he was darn good last year, despite playing through back and shoulder injuries. And working without Steve Nash for most of the year. And watching Kobe Bryant – even in the midst of a career resurgence – lead the league in shot attempts for the third straight season, despite coming in third in the NBA in points per game. Dwight Howard completely mishandled his entire 2011 to April of 2013 run, but the least we can do is acknowledge these other factors.
Howard is still being judged by what he can’t do. He can’t make his low post work look effortless like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or dominant like Shaquille O’Neal. The dude still can’t hit a free throw, and his turn in Los Angeles (right down to his final game) was embarrassing to say the least. The guy also ranks amongst the most effective post scorers in the league, though, and he remains one of the more efficient pick and roll players in the NBA. It may not look all that great, and he’s still short of a signature move, but Howard still got and gets the job done.
D’Antoni, a fine coach, never did much with that. He also wasted Pau Gasol’s potential as a possible offensive pivotman (feeding a cutting Howard) last year. Not every offensive lineup, even in the perimeter-happy modern era, has to feature a low post stud and stretch shooter. There can be movement, and cutting, and improvisation. Say, perhaps, in the same way Phil Jackson’s triangle offense worked with low post guys like Gasol and Andrew Bynum feeding off of each other.
Just tossing that out there.
The Los Angeles Lakers coach is correct. Kevin McHale has quite a bit of work to do in order to turn his possession-heavy fast break offense into an amalgam that recognizes both Howard’s gifts and the growing potential that his perimeter players boast. There has to be a happy marriage, and it won’t be easy to put the two types together.
D’Antoni, for all his snark, wasn’t able to do that in 2012-13. He had his reasons – the whole Lakers team had its reasons – but it’s still a curious thing to bring up, after a whopper of a disappointment of a season.
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