When Mike D'Antoni took over the Los Angeles Lakers last season, he thought he was walking into a cushy situation. D'Antoni had dreams of pick-and-roll domination with Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, but that never panned out, with injuries and some difficulties getting Howard to accept his role causing the brunt of the problems.
The injuries were an issue from the get-go, as Nash was already out when D'Antoni accepted the job and Howard was still dealing with lingering back issues. But even when the two were on the court together, things never ran as smoothly as hoped. D'Antoni told Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News that Howard envisioned himself as a dominant low-post scorer who the offense should run through rather than a pick-and-roll player:
"There was just a lot of conflict, emotionally," D'Antoni said. "People were not settled in their roles. But it's funny because a lot of times players will say 'I don't know my role.' It's not that you don't know it, you just don't accept it."
D'Antoni went on to explain that featuring Howard in the post wasn't really a viable option due to the fact that the big man wasn't healthy enough to take on that kind of load:
"The only thing that cracks me up is (the question) 'Why didn't you go through him more?' " D'Antoni said. "Well, he was hurt. Why would we go through him if he's hurt? You have to (factor) that in. Why would we do that with Kobe and Nash and (Pau) Gasol on the floor? That doesn't make a lot of sense."
While things didn't go well in Los Angeles, D'Antoni does believe Howard can regain some of the dominance he showed several years ago. But the Lakers coach believes the center must embrace his strengths while continuing to work on his low-post game:
"He's a force and he can be really, really good and dominate the league," D'Antoni said. "But it's in an area that he's not loving right now. He wants to dominate a different way, in the low post and all that. But he needs to get better there, and he will. But his greatness is in defense and being a physical force. I think he'd be better served if he embraces that."
D'Antoni did address Howard's decision to bolt the Lakers for the Houston Rockets, and the coach did find it somewhat humorous that the big man chose a Rockets team that runs a wide-open offense similar to the one the Lakers ran last year:
"The thing that cracks me up is Houston, they do the exact same thing," D'Antoni said, laughing. "And so (Howard) is gonna go to Houston? OK, so did they talk about change there? Don't tell me that it's that different."
Time will tell if Howard embraces his role under Kevin McHale in Houston more than he did under D'Antoni in Los Angeles.