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December 17, 2015

The idiot’s guide to Mike D’Antoni

As Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski is wont to do, he dropped a 💣💣💣 WOJBOMB 💣💣💣 on the good citizens of Philadelphia last weekend. He reported that Jerry Colangelo is pushing the pace like his old point guard, Steve Nash, to hire his old coach, Mike D’Antoni, in an associate head-coaching role on Brett Brown’s staff:

D'Antoni, a four-time head coach in the NBA, has been discussing with Colangelo and Brown a role on the Sixers' bench that could begin later this month, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

While there haven’t been many developments of note since the original report, Brown confirmed it. 2:45 p.m. update: Unless D'Antoni is coincidentally in town for the holidays, this could be getting close:

In order to brace for the possibility of D’Antoni, I will ask myself a couple of very basic questions (and then answer them).

Where has D’Antoni coached?

Most recently, he coached the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers before eventually resigning from both of those jobs due to Melo-drama and the Lakers not picking up the option on the final year of his contract. Neither stop would be considered successful, although the Lakers have only become worse since. If you will recall, D’Antoni’s last resignation made Magic Johnson’s day:

But D’Antoni is best known for the period from 2003 to 2008 when he coached the Phoenix Suns. During this time, he won 65 percent of his games while the Suns reached the Western Conference Finals twice and the Western Conference Semifinals another time from 2005-2007.

That’s pretty cool. Who did the Suns eventually lose to in the playoffs?

In 2006, a shorthanded Phoenix team admirably launched three after three on the way to the conference finals but eventually bowed out to Dirk Nowitzki’s Mavericks. That run was sandwiched between two losses to the San Antonio Spurs, the second of which ended controversially after Amar’e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw were suspended for a critical Game 5 for leaving the bench on this play:

San Antonio went onto to win titles both times after eliminating Phoenix. An assistant on those Spurs teams was the man D’Antoni is in talks to work under, Brett Brown.

Brett Brown! Where does he fit into this?

Well, he just got a two-year extension so there is at least some extra job security. If you believe Brown, the Sixers and D’Antoni were talking before Colangelo was hired:

"For a while now we've been trying to figure out where we are as a staff. We have the youngest team in the history of the game and the staff was designed to cater to that, tilted extremely on development and energy. Having a graybeard, true-veteran type NBA coach has been discussed for a while as it relates to growing my staff.”

Do you believe him, though? Colangelo and D’Antoni share history both with the Suns and USA Basketball. If what Brown says is true, the addition of Colangelo probably helped their recruiting pitch. The Sixers’ two main assistant coaches, Lloyd Pierce and Billy Lange, are younger guys whose duties also include player development. The 64-year-old D’Antoni would provide the Sixers with a different type of voice on the bench.

The question is if he would be down to fill a specific role. D’Antoni hasn’t been an assistant coach since 2003, before everybody knew who he was. Would he be willing to take a step back and work under Brown?

Is there anything in D’Antoni’s background that matches up with Brown’s coaching philosophy?

Absolutely. Offensively, all Brown talks about is “pace and space.” Even though D’Antoni never won an NBA title, he influenced the league more than many coaches who have. This is the guy whose “Seven Seconds or Less”  (SSOL) offense took the NBA by storm and helped Nash win two NBA MVP awards. In D’Antoni’s first four years in Phoenix, the Suns ranked 1st, 1st, 3rd, and 4th in pace. The two coaches could theoretically bond over their shared need for speed.

D’Antoni’s Suns also jacked up a ton of threes, something the Sixers would like to do (#Analytics). At SSOL’s best, Nash ran spread pick-and-roll with Stoudemire while three shooters lined up beyond the arc and spaced the floor perfectly. It was extremely difficult to guard.

Nash and Stoudemire aren’t walking through that door, but D’Antoni could help try to bring the Sixers’ offense back toward respectability.

The Sixers are the opposite of difficult to guard. How would D’Antoni’s system fit the roster?

It’s hard to say, because they already play at a decently fast pace and jack up a bunch of threes. Tony Wroten pushes the ball like a madman. Robert Covington has the green light in transition. Kendall Marshall racked up some assist numbers playing D’Antoni in L.A. a couple of years ago. I can’t imagine the guards and wings would be required to do anything drastically different.

What about the forwards?

This is where D’Antoni makes for a bit of an odd match. Nerlens Noel, who can anchor a defense and flashes potential as a pick-and-dive big man, looks like the type of player who might fit at center in the run-and-gun system. Noel is a 4 on this team, and he certainly doesn’t fit the prototype of a SSOL power forward. Those players, like Shawn Marion and Boris Diaw, make plays on the perimeter that Noel simply can’t.

Also, Jahlil Okafor's preferred plan of attack isn’t something that D’Antoni is a proponent of:

“If you look at the stats around the league, a post-up is not a very good shot. [Laughs] It just isn’t.”

Would this be a good hire?

Depends. If D’Antoni is on board with the plan and works with Brown as an offensive coordinator of sorts, it could be an incredible hire. He’s overqualified to do that job. How he potentially worked with the two bigs would be fascinating.

Being overqualified is also exactly why bringing on D’Antoni could be tricky. Just like with Colangelo and Sam Hinkie in the front office, you would have an accomplished outsider coming into a situation to work with a coach who has only lost since coming to Philly. If there is one thing you don't want in the organization, it's instability.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann