Thursday, May 01, 2008

5/1/08 Hey Phoenix, Don't Fire D'Antoni

The standard disclaimer - I am a complete bandwagon NBA fan. The Charlotte Hornets were relocated, and I have not yet warmed to the Bobcats nor do I have any childhood connection to them, so for now I cast about at will, compelled by the stories that swirl around various teams/styles. So any passion that I have for the Phoenix Suns comes from their well-documented revolution and in my admiration of Nash, not from the blood-deep bonds that other sports fandom promotes.

That being said, it's ridiculous to me the amount of groundswell behind firing coach Mike D'Antoni. Sure, it was obvious that he got outcoached by Popovich in that series, but join the club. Popovich has coached his way to 4 titles in the last decade. D'Antoni's not the only one to have his neck get in the way of that particular axe.

But what about longevity, and building a program, and all of that? Every endeavor has ebbs and flows, and as the ads are so fond of telling us, "There Can Only Be One". Which means that there are going to be teams, good teams, sometimes even great teams, that don't win it all. It's the beauty and curse of sports. No one in their right mind would argue that the '07-'08 Patriots weren't a great team, even though they didn't win it all. And, sure, the temperature might be hotter on Belichick if he didn't already sleep on a pile of Super Bowl rings, but the thing is that sports are unpredictable. By nature and by glorious design.

So it can become difficult to sift out teams that were derailed by unpredictability from those that are simply incapable of winning it all. But past accomplishments should count for something, I think, especially at the coaching level. Sometimes, what seems like a long-term team-altering decision gain (like canning a coach) provides just a short term burst of false hope. And sometimes it halts the rhythm and momentum of building a program and a culture.

So, sure, you can argue that the D'Antoni culture in Phoenix is that of "almost", but if the Suns braintrust doesn't have a good idea of what they want and who they want that is NOT D'Antoni (and who fits their players, who for the most part are locked in), then they should calm the hell down and realize that Popovich outcoaches everybody, and that D'Antoni has had teams that brought the firepower to at least go up against San Antonio with a fighting chance.

Popovich & Duncan are as linked as D'Antoni and Nash, and the culture that he has been able to build in San Antonio is a key part of their accomplishments. Jackson and Jordan and the Bulls in the '90s; similar "program development". Even when the Lakers were terrible and getting bounced in the first round by the same Suns that now look so lost, no one was calling for Phil Jackson's ouster. Sure, he's got the credibility of a championship, but unless you're bringing Jackson or Popovich to Phoenix than you're taking a step down from Mike D.

The thing about the Suns is that with D'Antoni at the helm they will be good, and they could be great, and they may even win a championship one day. But give the man credit, give him stability, and let this year stand as a disappointment, sure, but let the man get back to the drawing board. You'll be getting offensive fireworks and defensive idiocy, but that's as good a weapon to train on the behemoth Spurs as anyone has figured out how to muster. The wrong thing to do is to force Mike D. out or to force him to alter who he is as a coach. The short term philosophy demands an ouster, or to turn the Suns into more of a playoff built, low-post team. That's what Kerr will want, it will probably happen.

But I wish they would take the long view. I want Kerr to say screw it, Mike, Amare Stoudemire is never going to play defense, so let's crank the O up to 130 point per game. Bring in 3 point shooters, leapers, alley-oop finishers, surround Nash with as much offensive ridiculousness money (and trade flexibility) can buy, and let the two men that brought such high style to the desert go out shooting the guns they know how to fire. Execution/lack of defense/lack of health, whatever - ignore the demands of a championship-hungry fanbase and run the hell out of every 10 second possession. It hasn't won a championship yet, but it will one day, and I know D'Antoni believes that. Let him try, or let him go.

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