Before I wrote about basketball every day, I used to write about music. I worked at the weekly paper in Atlanta, covering hip-hop, and wrote regularly for XXL (and even The Source) out of Atlanta. Then I moved to New York and started writing about basketball, which is what I wanted to do in the first place.
Anyway, there was this phenomenon in music that affected most people called The Second Album Syndrome. Think of a musical artist working on their first album. They’ve been writing songs forever, learning how to play the piano or guitar or whatever, and suddenly they’re given a recording studio and cash to record. They’ve had 20 years to prep for this. The album comes out, whatever whatever, and then, before you know it, it’s time for your second album. And after two decades essentially working on your first album, all of sudden you’ve got six months to work on your second album. Which is why, for the most part, second albums are never as good as first albums.
I can’t help but think this is the situation facing Mike D’Antoni right about now. Everything I’ve ever read about D’Antoni talks about how his philosophy, which was shaped by his time playing in Italy, is to run and gun. For years as a coach in Europe, D’Antoni honed this philosophy. He had a blip coaching a terrible Nuggets team, but he really got a chance to shine in Phoenix, when he came in and was able to surround himself with players who fit his system. In a slow and stodgy NBA, suddenly Mike D’Antoni hit the turbo button and affected the entire league, giving hope to a lot of hopeless teams.
The thing was, and I wrote this numerous times the last few years, I always thought the Suns were built for the regular season, not the Playoffs. During the grind of the regular season, the Suns are able to feast on worn down teams. But during the postseason, not only are their opponents more rested, but the game changes and slows down, to the point where your execution in the halfcourt offense becomes paramount. The Suns have never been built to play halfcourt offense, so they find themselves having to slow it down and try to grind out wins, which is something they have never been able to do, or at least do effectively enough to win a Championship.
When the Suns recently moved Shawn Marion in order to pick up Shaq, it seemed to me that they were addressing this design flaw. Perhaps not on purpose, but that’s what swapping a fast player for a slow player is going to force them to do. Now they have a second post player who can command double teams and force defenders to react to them instead of dictating to them in a halfcourt offense. Does this mean completely abandoning their fastbreak game? No, to me it means more picking and choosing when to run, but it should also mean understanding that by making one trade, they’re suddenly a much more traditional and staid team that could be better suited to winning a title than ever before.
The trick is, Mike D’Antoni has to figure out how to go from fast-forward to just semi-forward. And the Suns understand this. Yesterday Steve Nash said, “We’re in training camp right now and everyone else is in midseason.” D’Antoni added “Any time you try something different, there are going to be those who don’t think you can do it. But I’m confident with who I am and what I can do. I understand in this business there’s more pressure on me than anybody else, and if I can’t get it done, they’ll get somebody else in here.”
The problem, as Nash alluded to, is that the Suns have to figure this out on the fly. Can they learn to adjust and properly utilize Shaq and Amare together? Or do they end up stuck somewhere in between?
D’Antoni had years to come up with his first symphony. Now he’s got about a month to finish his second album.
And I’m very curious as to how it’s going to end up sounding.
• My condolences to all NFL fans on the passing of former Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre. From the avalanche of coverage over the last 24 hours, Favre was apparently wildly beloved, by fans, sportswriters and sports editors alike.
• How do you fit your finger on the trigger?