Lakers coaching search: Mike Dunleavy says Mike D’Antoni’s system didn’t fit personnel

EL SEGUNDO - 02/19/13 - (Photo: Scott Varley, Los Angeles Newspaper Group)  At the Lakers practice facility in El Segundo, Lakers players and staff reflect on the passing of long-time owner Dr. Jerry Buss.

EL SEGUNDO – 02/19/13 – (Photo: Scott Varley, Los Angeles Newspaper Group)
At the Lakers practice facility in El Segundo, Lakers players and staff reflect on the passing of long-time owner Dr. Jerry Buss.

Among the many tenets that involve a coaching search: perhaps find a candidate that serves as a contrast to their predecessor.

And when it comes to Mike Dunleavy recently interviewing for the Lakers’ head-coaching position, it appears blatantly obvious his basketball philosophies differ from Mike D’Antoni’s. Before resigning nearly three weeks ago, D’Antoni encountered mixed support surrounding his system that placed a heavy emphasis on three-point shooting, a fast pace and floor spacing. Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard were among the stars who loathed it. Steve Nash and a flurry of role players were among the ones who wanted to give it a chance.

How about Dunleavy?

“The biggest problem is matching the personnel to the system. Mike D’Antoni is a really good and has a really good system. But I don’t think the players ever fit his system,” Dunleavy said on 710 ESPN’s Max & Marcellus. “Some of the guys they had fit great for what I would do. Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard would be the perfect ying yang.”

D’Antoni initially thought those two struggled co-existing, partly because of injuries, poor conditioning and floor spacing. D’Antoni also reached the same conclusions regarding Gasol and Chris Kaman this year also because of their defense

“For me, I play a power game. It’s an advantage,” Dunleavy said. “I love to play that way. I thought Kaman and Gasol were a great fit.”

Such philosophies should help Dunleavy’s case for Bryant, whom Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has recently said would become most productive playing in the post. Kupchak is also mindful that Bryant played only six games last season amid two major injuries in his left Achilles tendon and fractured left knee.

Dunleavy also argued his relationship with Bryant remains deeply rooted after nearly recruiting him to join the Clippers when he was weighing free agency in 2004. Dunleavy remains convinced that Bryant would have joined the Clippers had the Lakers not traded Shaquille O’Neal to Miami and if the late Lakers owner Jerry Buss not received the last word.

“He was very comfortable and could see himself playing for the Clippers,” Dunleavy recalled. “He did say one thing he promised Dr. Buss was he would have the last call with him. To me, that was the big danger zone. Sure enough, the day before free agency, they traded Shaq to Miami for Brian Grant and Lamar Odom. I got the call from Kobe. He told me, ‘Coach, I’m going back to the Lakers.’ I understood it. That was what I felt like would potentially happen. But if it didn’t happen, I think there was a great chance he would work for us.”

Would Dunleavy work well with the Lakers?

Dunleavy’s 17-year career as an NBA head coach entailed coaching both the Lakers (1990-92), Milwaukee Bucks (1992-96), Portland Trail Blazers (1997-2001) and Clippers (2003-10) amid mixed success.

The good: Dunleavy coached the Lakers following Pat Riley’s firing and led them to the 1991 NBA Finals before losing to the Chicago Bulls in five games. Dunleavy’s Portland teams appeared in two consecutive Western Conference Finals, including a seven-game series loss to the Lakers in 2000. Dunleavy also guided the Clippers to a playoff appearance in the 2005-06 campaign.

The bad: Dunleavy’s four-stint with the Bucks yielded no playoff appearances. Dunleavy resigned from the Clippers in 2010 after missing the playoffs for five seasons.

“I’ve been around the block. I’ve been very fortunate,” Dunleavy said. “I’ve coached some really good teams with good franchises and I coached some bad teams. I haven’t been afraid to try either. I felt like any place I’ve been when I’m gone out, they’ve been way better than when they started. The best thing I can say that as a coach, I’ve always won when I’m supposed to win. I’ve never lost a playoff series when I’ve been favored and I upset some pretty big names in the game.

With the Lakers a season removed from having the sixth worst record in the NBA, Dunleavy doesn’t appear to be interviewing for a team ready to win.

“I don’t read too much into anything,” Dunleavy said. “The bottom line is I think I’ve proven along the way. I win when I’m supposed to win. I coached many starters and a lot of guys who aren’t easy to coach. That’s not the case with the Lakers.”

And that includes his insistence that his system will work with the Lakers’ personnel however it shapes up.

“The more you know about the game and smarter about the game, the more I fit in,” Dunleavy said. “You look at all the players I coached who were free agents, they get paid. All I care about is what they can do. They’re happy and get numbers and they help us with what we need to do.”


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