In some ways, I am envious of Mike D'Antoni's ability to keep getting the better and better gigs based on a three-year run of excitement and wonder with the mid-market Phoenix Suns.

And in other ways, I feel sorry for him.

First it happened in Phoenix. Then it happened on a bigger stage in New York with the rebuilding, then suddenly contending, Knicks.

Now, as if history won't repeat itself in the very land that glorifies and bases its entire economy on this concept, Mike D'Antoni is getting another chance to prove that his style can win a championship on the biggest stage of all.

Like the surprisingly popular book-turned-movie "The Hunger Games", Mike has been pulled out of the gutter, buffed, plucked and waxed by a host of media stylists, and trotted onto the stage to be introduced as the next great hope.

"Introducing... from District 12... the boy on fire... Mike D'Annnntoooonnniiiiii...!"

D'Antoni is being paraded around the city of lights, touted for his great skills, earning bandwagon fans from every corner of the globe, all while in the background skeptics are scheming and betting against him.

D'Antoni first came to Phoenix with the promise of a great offense that would overcome any defensive deficiencies simply by outscoring the opponent.

"If you've got the best team," he said when prompted this week. "Why wouldn't you play the most possessions that you can play defensively and offensively? Any time the possessions are cut down, then a bad call, a missed shot, you've got a chance to lose.

"But if we keep the possessions up here, to me we've got a lot better chance to win when we're playing a lot of reps."

Ask San Antonio and Dallas how that strategy works in the playoffs. Heck, ask Kobe even. Ultimately, the Suns lost in the playoffs each year to a team that could force the Suns to prove that theory. They slowed down the pace, or kept it fast and loose, but still knew that as long as the Suns didn't get more possessions than they did (which is mathematically impossible), games really DID come down to a bad call, a missed shot and a chance to lose 4 out of 7.

Asked if that was his problem, to be outcoached in those last few possessions of a tight game no matter how many total possessions there were, D'Antoni said:

"You're not going to outcoach other coaches. Everybody's too prepared. Everybody works too hard to think that I'm going to sit there and figure out something that they haven't figured out. You just don't do that.

"Players have to eventually be accountable and they have to be the ones to go win the game for you."

Suns fans recognize those comments by Mike D'Antoni. We lived and breathed them for several years, and lamented losses each year in the playoffs to "inferior" teams who got lucky or cheated their way to a series win. We said that defense doesn't matter as long you score better than the other team.

We believed in Mike, until eventually enough playoff losses caused us to question the methodology. At some point, we came around to the notion that, gee, it sure would be nice to focus at least a little bit on getting stops rather than the next scoring opportunity.

Mike's teams were always okay on defense, ranking between 13th and 21st in efficiency, while boasting the leagues most efficient offense. That wins a lot of regular season games, but doesn't help you beat great teams that are prepared for you and ready to outwork you.

Phoenix figured that out as they gave D'Antoni a long, long leash. Eventually, he left on his own in a huff within 24 hours of another heartbreaking playoff loss to the Spurs. He didn't want his GM telling him to tweak his philosophy - to add a defensive assistant to the staff.

So Mike left for a new, bigger stage - New York. Sure enough, the media there built him up for a couple of years while downplaying his lack of defensive mindset, only to tear him down when he was finally given the players to succeed but failed to do so.

"I left Steve once, and it didn't work out too well for me," he said this week with a light-hearted chuckle.

Again, D'Antoni left New York in a huff, resigning his position mid-season because it just so frustrating for him.

Two teams, two resignations when his teams came up short of expectations.

So where better to go than LA, owners of the highest expectations in the league and 18 NBA championships? Things couldn't possibly go wrong. Right?

"We're built to win this year," D'Antoni said Thursday. "This is not a project. We have a window and we're going to try and get through it."

Get through it he will, with four Hall of Famers in his starting lineup but arguably the league's most fragile contender and worst bench.

But that's not stopping national and LA media from blowing this up with expectations. As Ken Berger of cbssports.com puts it in a column yesterday after D'Antoni's press conference:

The more he explained what he believes in and how the talent-rich Lakers can thrive under his free-wheeling, player-driven style like no other team he's coached, the more his critics presumably slumped in their chairs.


If D'Antoni's debut on the court is anything close to as entertaining and informative as his debut in front of a microphone, then behold the return of the Showtime era in L.A.

Berger goes on to poo-poo "those who've bought the silly notion that D'Antoni can't win in the playoffs with a style built strictly around bringing out his players' talent."

Suddenly, D'Antoni is the golden child once again. He's ready to prove all of his critics wrong. Everyone loves him and loves his style. His reputation and coaching resume have been buffed, waxed and primped.

All I can say is this, Mike:

May the odds be ever in your favor.

Phil Jackson may be the lord of the rings, but Mike D’Antoni was the right choice all along to be the next head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. Now granted the Lakers — who host the...

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It seems to me that the main disappointment last night were the performances of Jared Dudley and Michael Beasley.

Michael Beasley was shown first-hand tonight that he can't coast on this team - sticks out like sore thumb. Hurts the team. What will he do?

— Dave King (@DaveKing_BSotS) November 15, 2012

Dave pointed it out clearly. When Scola fouled out, Beasley appeared to come in and just expect for things to fall his way...they didn't. If the Suns are going to want to win these close games, they will have to have better nights from Dudley and Beasley. Dudley finished 2-5 from the field with 5 points and a +/- rating of -7. Beasley ended up a -20, shot 4-15 on the night, and coughed up 4 turnovers.

Dave put it perfectly again when he described how the rest of the team seems to not give up and fight like a team with their talent has to, except for Dudley and Beasley:

But all these accolades of effort and scrappiness stops at eight of the ten players in the Suns regular rotation. Paging the heartbeats of Michael Beasley and Jared Dudley - the Suns starting wing players who didn't factor into the comeback attempt last night.

Check out the rest of Dave's article: Phoenix Suns' Michael Beasley and Jared Dudley Must Step Up or Step Down

Let's look at some tweets that highlight the positives of last night:

Anyone guess that PJ Tucker would be not only playing crunch time minutes but basically winning stuff?

— Seth Pollack (@sethpo) November 15, 2012

I believe in PJ Tucker.

Special thanks to all the fans.. I promise you well will fight for every game until the end.. #PJSaidThat

— PJ Tucker (@PJTUCKER17) November 15, 2012

Don't get me wrong, Sebastian Telfair had a great game last night, except for this play that is sure to be on Top 10 Plays for SportsCenter:

So Suns fans, there were some encouraging parts to last night's game, but it also worries me that Dudley and Beasley are performing like they are. What do you think the Suns need to do in order to close out comebacks like this?


Most every guy in the Phoenix Suns 10-man rotation dives, scrums and leaves everything they've got on the floor. No deficit is too big to overcome. No game is over until the final whistle blows. Down 26 to Cleveland? No problem. Down 10 to Denver? No worries. Down 18 to Chicago? Let's go!

What's become a blueprint for this team - get down big, then fight back like a whirling dervish - is both a good thing and a bad thing. The ability to fight back is admirable, but some deficits take too much effort to overcome. By the time you get back to tie it up, your tank is already empty.

Goran Dragic, Shannon Brown and Sebastian Telfair all airballed long jumpers in the overtime period. When you couple that with losing your two best big men of the night - Scola fouled out with 24 and 14, Morris left with injury after getting 8 and 10 - you just don't have enough left to close the deal.

But all these accolades of effort and scrappiness stops at eight of the ten players in the Suns regular rotation. Paging the heartbeats of Michael Beasley and Jared Dudley - the Suns starting wing players who didn't factor into the comeback attempt last night.

More on Beasley in a moment.

Jared Dudley is the surprise entrant in the doghouse. The former "Junkyard Dog" and winner of the Majerle Hustle Award has become a watcher. I remember a Jared Dudley that changed games with his level of effort. Back in the spring of 2010 as a member of the bench unit that propelled the Suns to the WCF, Dudley was cited as a catalyst of energy on a second unit that did, basically, the same thing today's second unit is doing. Dudley was the face of Suns hustle.

Now that Dudley is a starter, has he forgotten what earned him his old nickname "Junkyard Dog"? It's as if he's decided it's more important to practice jump shots than to dive and fight for rebounds the way he used to. Is he trying to pace himself to be fresh in the fourth? Well, I have to break it to Jared - if you don't hustle the whole game, you won't be playing in the fourth period very often. When was the last time Dudley made a key hustle play in the fourth? Heck, when was the last time Dudley played meaningful minutes in the fourth?

Whatever the reasons, whatever the circumstances, Jared Dudley's teammates have clearly passed him up in the hustle department. Luis Scola, Marcin Gortat, Goran Dragic, Sebastian Telfair, P.J. Tucker, Shannon Brown, Markieff Morris. Even Jermaine O'Neal, until a family death took him away from the team for a bit.

"If we just keep competing like this, we'll find a way to win," Gentry said.

Carlos Boozer mentioned Tucker by name after the game as a gamechanger on the offensive boards. Tucker had 7 offensive rebounds, including the game-tying bucket off an offensive rebound with mere seconds left.

P.J. "Garbage Man" Tucker has stolen the show from Jared "Junkyard Dog" Dudley, and now it's up to Dudley raise his own bar. He needs to decide that every single minute, every single play counts. There's no time to save your legs, or you'll be saving them on the bench.

Now to Michael Beasley, the other half of the floating tandem. Beasley is not a surprise, though. He came to Phoenix with a reputation bereft of all-out effort. He came to Phoenix with a mindset that's its better to shoot a contested jumper than to scrap inside with the bigger boys.

But never has it stood out in such stark display as last night's game. Beasley was on the bench watching the all-out hustle of the guys on the floor. He saw them come back from 18 down to tie up the game and send it to overtime. He saw that scrapping and clawing had done wonders on the scoreboard.

Then Markieff Morris got hurt, Luis Scola fouled out and Jermaine O'Neal was not yet ready for game action. Uh oh. All the big guys who could pair with Gortat were suddenly gone. And all eyes turned to Michael Beasley to help cap off this amazing comeback.

First play - a poor defensive effort, leaving Luol Deng open for the openest jumper in an hour.

Second play - an offensive turnover in which he committed an offensive foul AND threw a pass right to a Bulls player at the same time.

Third play - beaten in the post by Carlos Boozer

Fourth play - a good drive to the basket, but he made only 1 of 2 free throws.

By the time Beasley made a shot, the Suns had been outscored 8-1. This time, the game was over.

Here is where it gets interesting for the maturation (or not) of Michael Beasley.

It's one thing to watch on the sidelines while the team rallies, telling yourself that everything's okay and coach is just playing the hot hands in crunch time. And if you had the chance, you could do just as well or better than them.

It's another thing to get your chance and to fail.

And it's quite another - and much worse - to let your team down due to lack of effort and execution. After your teammates had done everything they could to get back in the game, to know you had brought none of that on the offensive and defensive ends at the most critical juncture of the game.

What will Beasley do about it? Will he realize what it takes to succeed on this team? Will he understand, finally, that's its not just about scoring when it's convenient?

And lest we forget, Alvin Gentry had two starters on the bench when Luis Scola fouled out.

Gentry could have subbed in the 6'8" Michael Beasley or the 6'7" Jared Dudley. Both undersized at having to defend either 6'9" Deng or 6'9" Boozer, so neither was a great defensive option.

I daresay, given the nature of the game and what had worked against the Bulls so far, that if Gentry had the "Junkyard Dog" waiting to sub in, he would have done that in a heartbeat.

But no. His choices were ineffective Jared Dudley and inefficient, but potentially explosive, Michael Beasley.

We need the "Junkyard Dog" back!

And we need Michael Beasley to raise his level of effort to match the rest of his team.

Or those guys are going to be left behind as the bus picks up speed.

Bet you've never seen this one before!

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