The pairing of Mike D'Antoni and Dwight Howard was never presumably a part of the plan as the season started, but that's the reality the Los Angeles Lakers are facing and they're going to have to figure out how to work the two together.
Initially, the two seemed to fit together like two peas in a pod.
D'Antoni is a fast-paced, offensive-minded coach who likes to run the offense through the post when at all possible, and is capable of turning even the most clueless offensive mind into a pick-and-roll workhorse.
Throughout his career, D'Antoni has led Antonio McDyess to his highest scoring season, turned Amar'e Stoudemire into one of the league's premier offensive big men, turned Shawn Marion into a darn effective stop-gap center when Amar'e was out for the season in 2006, worked Shaquille O'Neal into a run-and-gun style offense, made Al Harrington an effective inside-outside big dude, jump-started David Lee's career, and turned Stoudemire into an MVP candidate before the New York Knicks went and traded for Carmelo Anthony.
As far as head coaches go in the NBA, he's a borderline offensive genius. Or, at least he's shown that he's capable of being one in the past.
So why is it that D'Antoni has had so much trouble with the Lakers? It is easy to chalk it all up to mismatched pieces ans shallow depth, but has he lost his touch? I'm inclined to go with the former rather than the latter on that one.
It seems that the biggest problem for the Lakers offense has been a lack of flexibility, as it's either Kobe Bryant playing well in isolation or Steve Nash initiating as the point guard, and the two don't fit together well. Los Angeles' offense is undeniably effective, the only problem is that it's not effective in the way we all expected.
It's not the smooth-running machine that generates points at will. Instead, it's a streaky powerhouse that can go possession after possession with a bucket, only to go scoreless on four, five, six and seven possessions in a row at times.
In a sense, a big finger can be pointed at the fact that this is not what D'Antoni is "used" to in running an offense. While he does have Nash at the point—something that's a bit of a security blanket for him—and a big man to run the ball through into the post, he's got this awkward wing player that's extremely ball-dominant.
Throughout D'Antoni's career, the big man in his offense has always been the team leader in usage percentage, with only three exceptions. The first two come in 2011 and 2012 with the Knicks (once Carmelo Anthony came along), and the third is this year's Lakers, as Kobe's usage rate of 32.7 percent is overshadowing Dwight by over 10 percent.
Not surprisingly, the Lakers are struggling as D'Antoni's Knicks struggled when the ball-dominant player is a winger.
It's through that observation that we can rather confidently conclude that D'Antoni and Dwight aren't a bad fit—they're just not in a situation where they can succeed right now. At least as long as D'Antoni allows the offense to run predominantly through Kobe.
With that, it seems that the main culprit in this Lakers' disappointing season isn't Howard, Nash, Kobe or Pau Gasol, and it's not D'Antoni, eithrt. Rather, it's Los Angeles' front office.
I continue to believe that these players can succeed together, the only problem is that the Lakers hired a coach that would be forced to adhere to the personnel, instead of the other way around.
Dwight Howard's success depends on him becoming the focal point of the offense, something that D'Antoni is historically good at. He's just got to figure out how to best incorporate Kobe in the process.