"Say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos."--Walter Sobchak
"I don't have a system, I'm just trying to win games..."--Mike D'Antoni, Jan. 29, 2013
Back in October I spoke to Chris Webber while working on the SLAM NBA Preview issue. We spent an hour on the phone going team-by-team through the entire NBA, and about halfway through, after discussing numerous good and bad teams, we got to the San Antonio Spurs. And in comparing the Spurs players to players from other franchises, it was here that Webb said something that's been clattering around my head all season: "As we talk about some of these teams, it's unfair to talk about some of these players, because I've been a player in a system-less system, and you can't do anything with that. So the one piece of mind you have as a player on San Antonio is, you're in a system. It's because of Popovich that they're good every year. That trust is something that you just can't buy."
But what happens when the system is the problem? Earlier this season, when it became obvious that Mike Brown and the Princeton offense he'd installed was a miserable fit for the personnel on the Lakers roster, they ate the millions left on Brown's contract and faced a decision: Bring in Phil Jackson and his signature system, which has produced eleven titles, or Mike D'Antoni and his signature system, which has produced no titles. Two systems diverged in Hollywood, and the Lakers chose the system less proven. And it's been, frankly, a mess.
Lakers ownership presumably saw D'Antoni's system on display at his previous gig in New York, and must have noticed there were problems when he tried to utilize Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler at the same time. Lessons, repeating, doomed, etc.: The Lakers are 15-21 under D'Antoni's watch, and the most obvious issue has been the awkward fit of D'Antoni's system with the players the Lakers have assembled. D'Antoni believes in floor spacing and ball movement, which are basic tenets of basketball. According to D'Antoni, the Lakers are "better when we're small." So he replaced the seven-footer Pau Gasol in the starting line-up with Earl Clark and has allowed Dwight Howard to man the post. Pau Gasol is many things--a two-time NBA champ, a four-time All-Star, a former FIBA World Champ--but at least in regard to his fit in Mike D'Antoni's system, the problem is with what Pau Gasol is not: Shorter.