Lakers’ D’Antoni Arrives with a rescripted “Showtime”


November 15, 2012; El Segundo, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers new head coach Mike D

In 1984, Axel Foley made us all believe that being a police officer in Beverly Hills was filled with drama, action and of course entertaining one-liners that contributed to the comical relief that was the 90210. That Olympic year also demonstrated  that the bright lights of Hollywood translated naturally on the hardwood as the “Showtime” Lakers entertained just as well as their thespian ticket holders. Truth be told, 1984 had the nation either wanting to be a Beverly Hills cop or a recipient of a Magic pass or Kurt Rambis outlet. Nearly 30 years later — and I am certain dozens of rewrites for a fourth BHC installment and/or miniseries later — one fact remains and it is not the necessity to patrol the streets of Beverly Hills but rather the necessity to have a Laker team with “Showtime” swagger; the ultimate character identification of Los Angeles basketball dominance at its finest.

While the majority of us are limited when it comes to time travel, the Los Angeles Lakers enjoyed 1984 so much they may be revisiting the “Showtime” blue print once again. With Mike D’Antoni being named the Director of this 2012 “Showtime” Laker production revival — already having suffered one rewrite compliments of Mike Brown — the run-and-gun, shoot ’em up wild west action that characterized D’Antoni’s rise to prominence in Phoenix is an appropriate type of screenplay to pitch to the Los Angeles audience. However, can D’Antoni cast the appropriate roles to resurrect the 1984-1985 classic “Showtime” Lakers or will this be just another straight-to-video production made to be enjoyed in the comforts and privacy of our own homes?

March 2, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Movie actor Eddie Murphy and Jeffery Katzenberg during the game against the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

The Leading Man – Coach D’Antoni will enter the Laker set with an already established familiarity between he and the most important actor on the court. As his leading man, Steve Nash will play a pivotal role in large part because of his previous experience with coach D’Antoni while in Phoenix. It is this previous experience that rightfully places Nash, not Kobe Bryant, as the leading man in the 2012 recycled production of “Showtime.” Of the 4 years spent together in Phoenix, Nash won the league’s Most Valuable Player twice under D’Antoni (2004-2005 and 2005-2006) while D’Antoni himself benefited from Nash’s on-court coaching presence as the former took home Coach of the Year honors in 2004-2005. Granted, Nash is not the same age nor physical specimen that won those accolades, but all this was taken under consideration when Laker management sought Nash as well as D’Antoni. Today, Nash offers a calm demeanor as well as a basketball perspective that appears almost omniscient when on the court. Couple those characteristics with his knowledge of D’Antoni’s offensive schemes and the Lakers have just the right person to lead and teach the team during practice and games. Thus, the leading man role for the revision of “Showtime” will be filled by Steve Nash. Other notable men to have filled this role include Magic Johnson.

The Supporting Lead – Stating that Kobe Bryant will be filling a supportive role on any team let alone “his” Los Angeles Laker team sounds a bit far-fetched, but as Bryant approaches the end of his career — or so he has us believing — the transition to a new role will be beneficial because it will introduce a new challenge as his cognitive preparation and approach to basketball is refreshed.  Looking at the dynamics involved in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic games, which is the only other setting where both D’Antoni and Bryant have worked together as player and assistant coach, the role Bryant filled was a supportive one. The 2012 Olympic basketball team saw Kevin Durant, Lebron James and Carmelo Anthony take leading roles while on the 2008 team, Dwayne Wade and James stepped up to lead that squad; on both occasions Bryant was either the fourth or third scoring option and his contributions outside of scoring exemplified a role of support and not necessity. If Bryant can continue to score as he has done so far this season — my guess is that under D’Antoni points will be spread around a bit more accordingly while the stars continue having the greatest opportunities — but avoid falling into the mindset of needing to be the primary scorer, the fluidity of the team will benefit greatly from his new role.  Obviously this Laker team does not have the same weapons as either Olympic team mentioned, but what Laker fanatics will quickly realize as it becomes an underlying theme throughout the year is that the starting 5 for D’Antoni is of all-star caliber; this teams greatest strength will be the punches it throws as soon as it leaves its corner come opening tip. Thus, the supporting role for the revision of “Showtime” will be filled by Kobe Bean Bryant. Other notable men to have filled this role include James Worthy.

The Comic Relief – Every script needs someone who will remind its audience that although tensions can dramatically change during the highs and lows of a story (or in this case season), humor can alleviate almost any emotion. Dwight Howard fits the role almost as naturally as Ryan Gosling fits the role of “man with sensitive eyes and charming good looks.” His playful antics before and after games, boyish grin only made brighter by the lights at Staples and of course his 44 for 87 free-throw stat line this year all combine to make even the casual fan smile. However, what is even more humorous — and the real reason Howard causes others to laugh in admiration — is how dominant Howard can be when completely healthy and in-tune with his teammates. Since entering the league in 2004 at the age of 19, Howard has not averaged less than 10 rebounds a season while increasing that production level to an average of just under 14 rebounds per season since losing a championship series to what is now the organization that signs his checks. It is extremely significant to grasp the importance of “possession-retention” through rebounding especially on a D’Antoni coached team. Howard must make it a point to create multiple-shot opportunities on offense while defensively limit the oppositions shot attempts. Aside from rebounding, Howard will need to score, obviously. What is not so obvious is how Howard scores as it will truly be the intriguing aspect of his role on this particular team. Will shots be thrown up at a speed so rushed that rebounds will be the best option for Howard to earn his points? Or will the offense run through Howard at the quick pace D’Antoni is known for, forcing Howard to adjust and shoot fast but never hurried shots? Thus, the comic relief role for the revision of “Showtime” will be filled by Dwight Howard. Other notable men to have filled this role in such a dominantly humorous manner include Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

The Heartbreak Kid – If ever there is a role written for Metta World Peace that is more appropriate than being the Heartbreak Kid, I have yet to come across it. Whenever a shot is thrown up, whenever a dribble is taken, whenever Metta does anything, anywhere on offense, everyone yells, FACT! Whether or not those are positive or negative, Metta has perfected the art of making the crowds jeers transform into cheers whenever he releases an ill-advised shot only to have it find its way through the net. Having averaged double-digit points only twice during his 4-year career with the Lakers, this year included, I am eager to see how his scoring will be affected with D’Antoni as coach.  Needless to say, his contribution will have to come on defense as his physical  style of basketball frustrates his opposition. His physical presence on the court is in fact his greatest contribution, showing moments of high basketball I.Q only to be followed up by questionable shot selections at what always seems to be inopportune moments in the game. So long as Metta contributes defensively — whatever that means in a D’Antoni coached system —  and does not take away from the fluidity of the offense, D’Antoni should find a proper place for him. Thus, the Heartbreak kid role for the revision of “Showtime” will be filled by Metta World Peace. Other notable men to have filled this role include, well, when your name is “World Peace” it is understandable if you are the first of your kind.

November 15, 2012; El Segundo, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Pau Gasol (16) talks to the media before the press conference to introduce new head coach Mike D

The Wildcard – Last but not least, the Wildcard role for any script is crucial because it allows the director to fulfill any unfinished business/story-line through this character; Pau Gasol is indeed D’Antoni’s Wildcard. Since arriving in Los Angeles, Pau has averaged 18.4 points, 3.4 assists and 9.8 rebounds a season, and yet fans have a strange ability to make his numbers feel under-appreciated. Maybe some of that has to do with his performance during crucial games in the playoffs, but than again the Lakers would never be in some of those crucial games without that aforementioned stat-line. Pau offers D’Antoni the priceless luxury of play-conversion. What is meant by that is, what once may have been a designed play for a small guard who can shoot, now can be converted and applied to a big man whose soft-touch and guard-like passing skills will create havoc for opposing big men, cue Pau.  Like his counterpart, the big men for the Lakers will have to stay conditioned in order to be lethally affective. Pau will run more than he may be accustomed to, especially if he is an option for the pick-and-roll or high to low post switches. Thus the Wildcard role for this re-installment of “Showtime” will be filled by Pau Gasol. Other notable men to have filled this role include Kurt Rambis.

With all the roles accounted for — at least the important roles — it is a bit unfortunate that this script lacks an essence f mystery revolving what type of style D’Antoni will play. Subsequently that lack of mystery brings with it an elevated level of expectation because coach D’Antoni will have to live up to his playbook’s hype —which by the way was ultimately chosen ahead of the triangle scheme that has 11 championships on its resume. The beauty of expectation, however, is making them as high as possible before reality sets its parameters. What will offer great mystery is the handling of the Laker bench and how they will step up. Adding to that plot line is the successful reference the Clippers have made themselves with their bench play. How long can the starters last? How much will age play a factor in getting and staying conditioned? Who will be the weak link of this offense and how will that be addressed? Nonetheless, if everyone plays their roles appropriately, an up-tempo scheme that involves more shooting will be a step in the right direction at least when it comes to entertainment value. Obviously winning is the indisputable theme for this version of “Showtime”, but it makes one wonder, if it were JUST about winning and not entertainment, wouldn’t a triangle offense have been more appropriate?