On paper, the L.A. Lakers' decision to hire Mike D'Antoni makes perfect sense. Even in comparison to Phil Jackson, it might be a better move for the franchise's extended health. With the Zen Master, you really never know when his last game will come -- he'd be on re-retirement watch from Day 1. And as we saw at the end of the 2010-11 season, there are no title guarantees, especially if he gets tired and less motivated to tweak his stars to the max.
D'Antoni is beloved by Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant, knows how to make an athletic big man shine and has the right sort of flair for an L.A. crowd hungry for electricity. But there are still a few ways in which this could go wrong and leave the Lakers short of the only thing that matters this year: a championship.
Here is a look at those ways it could go wrong.
* Steve Nash fails to get healthy. Nash missed four games last season. He missed no more than seven in any one season in Phoenix, with those infamous Suns trainers/wizards. He's already missed five games this season, his first outside of Phoenix in nearly a decade. That doesn't exactly bode well. And while this was a one-time injury, not a chronic issue, there's no denying that Nash is aging, has a huge volume of miles on his wheels and has dealt with chronic back issues that require constant maintenance and regimental rest. Given all of that, this has been an auspicious start to his post-Phoenix career.
And if Nash can't go? D'Antoni's famous offensive stylings are going to look a lot less pretty (not to mention effective) when Steve Blake, Chris Duhon and Darius Morris are running them. The Lakers' offense will still be really good, but the league's best? Not likely without Nash. There's so much that Nash does well in addition to pushing the ball and setting up teammates for easy shots -- he himself is a great shooter, he's a great game manager and he knows when to pull back. That's all imperative to getting D'Antoni's show clicking ... as the coach's lack of success in New York made painfully apparent.
Without Nash, the Lakers will be doing what they've always done: relying on the heroics of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, with some post play from the center mixed in. And they'll be doing it without a coach who has shown he can design and run a top-tier defense.
This isn't going to be Seven Seconds or Mess Part II. But without a healthy, reliable Nash, it's not going to be Seven Seconds or Less Part II either.
* Dwight Howard can't do it all defensively. Mike Brown made his reputation by designing incredibly effective defenses. The Cleveland Cavaliers were regularly near the top of the table in defense, albeit with LeBron James and Anderson Varejao, two superlative defenders, in place. But last season, with Andrew Bynum in the middle, Brown's Lakers finished just No. 13 in defense. That doesn't speak well to the current defensive acumen of Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant or Metta World Peace. Howard is loads better than Bynum on that end, but Nash has always struggled to keep opponents in front of him.
D'Antoni's defensive reputation is not nearly as bad as many people make it out to be. The Knicks ranked in the top 10 in defense before Mike D got fired last season; Mike Woodson, the defensive coordinator brought in the previous offseason, and Tyson Chandler surely deserve the lion's share of credit, but that happened and D'Antoni was there. His Phoenix teams were regularly middle-of-the-pack on defense despite Nash's presence; the idea the Suns were awful defensively stemmed from a misunderstanding of the role of pace in that all-important stat, points allowed per game, which is useless.
But needless to say, D'Antoni is not the defensive schemer that Brown has been. So D'Antoni needs help. Chuck Person would seem to be the designated defensive coach left on the staff. That's not good. If D'Antoni can't hire a defensive-minded coach who isn't Dan D'Antoni (his brother, who essentially ran the defense in Phoenix), the Lakers will be left to rely on Dwight Howard to fix everything. That worked for the Magic for a number of years ... but the Magic also had Stan Van Gundy, who is a bit like Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind when it comes to defense. Can Howard almost single-handedly make the Lakers a great defensive team ... great enough to slow Durant&Westbrook&Ibaka or LeBron&Wade&Bosh? We'll see.
* The unavoidable weaknesses of the Lakers end the quest. Firing Mike Brown and hiring Mike D'Antoni does absolutely nothing to solve the greatest weakness of this team: its painful thinness. Those four Hall-of-Famers are awesome and all, but the best player outside of them is either Jordan Hill or ... yeah, it's Jordan Hill. JORDAN HILL. That ain't good. And while D'Antoni will keep a tight rotation and play to the roster's strengths, there will come a point when the starters need to rest and whatever lead they've built up will evaporate, and then they'll be in a dogfight in the fourth quarter ...
* Kobe. ... and we'll see Nash trying to run the offense and we'll see Kobe pull the pin of a grenade and blow that offense up to take a contested 26-footer, and that dude with the diamond-encrusted Lakers charm will wag his tongue, and maybe the ball will clank off the rim and maybe it will zip through the net, and then we'll realize that all of this chatter was pretty overwrought because it's the players in the end, the players who decide who wins and who loses, and whether it be Mike Brown or Mike D'Antoni or Michael McDonald for this team it'll always be Kobe. No matter what happens between now and then, that's what will happen then. Kobe will happen.
The Hook is a daily NBA column by Tom Ziller. See the archives.