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Phoenix Suns

Updated Nov 12, 2012 - 7:24 pm

Johnson: Mike D'Antoni's biggest challenge will be Dwight Howard

In this Feb. 22, 2012, file photo, then-New York Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni gestures in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Atlanta Hawks in New York. D'Antoni's agent says the Los Angeles Lakers have signed the former coach of the Suns and Knicks to a four-year contract to replace Mike Brown in a deal late Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012, two days after the Lakers fired Brown five games into the season. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

Dwight Howard's reputation proceeds him, there's no two ways around that.

During his final season with the Magic in 2011-2012, Howard was often publicly at odds with head coach Stan Van Gundy. As Orlando tried to shift towards a more wide-open offensive scheme to accommodate the likes of Glen Davis and Hedo Turkoglu, Howard was rather vocal in opposition.

Ultimately both found a one-way ticket out of town -- Van Gundy by way of the pink slip and Howard via a blockbuster trade to the Los Angeles Lakers in August -- but with Mike D'Antoni now taking over in Tinseltown the question remains can the six-time All-Star adapt to an offense that favors big men who can spread the floor and consistently hit open jump shots?

Eddie Johnson, the Suns lead TV analyst, isn't sold on the idea just yet.

"[Howard] isn't great for Mike D'Antoni," Johnson told Arizona Sports 620's Doug & Wolf Monday. "I say that because he can't knock down that 15-foot jump shot. A lot of that offense is predicated on a pick-and-pop guy that knock down that shot."

The Lakers certainly have a guy on their roster who can more than adequately step into that role, power forward Pau Gasol. While the four-time All Star might thrive in offense that features he, Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant, Johnson is worried Howard's game won't jive with D'Antoni's "Seven Seconds or Less" offense.

D'Antoni was a proponent of the trade that brought Shaquille O'Neal -- a true low-post center -- to the Valley midway through the 2007-2008 season, however. Not only did O'Neal have personal success in the system during his one full season in Phoenix -- averaged 18 points per game and was selected to his 15th NBA All-Star Game -- but the Suns remained the league's most efficient offensive team for the fifth consecutive year.

According to Johnson, the best predictor as to how Howard might fit into D'Antoni's up-tempo system is not by evaluating the Big Cactus' time in the Valley, but rather taking a look at how the former Suns coach worked in center Steven Hunter to Phoenix's offensive plans during the 2004-2005 season.

"[The Suns] did have success back in the day with Steven Hunter, who was backing up Amar'e Stoudemire," said Johnson. "He played, and he wasn't a pick-and-pop guy. He was a guy who went to the rim, they threw him lobs and they got away with it. But for the most part that offense is predicated on a pick-and-pop guy. So, that's the challenge.

"They have Pau Gasol, so where do you put Howard? Is he going to be happy playing off the ball and being told by Mike that most of his points will come off of offensive rebounds and that they'll give him some post-up opportunities here and there. I don't know."

With respect to Howard, the former No. 1 overall pick is a much more skilled and athletic big man than Hunter ever was -- career average of 18.4 points per game and a shooting percentage of 57.8 percent. But in a contract year, will he gladly take a backseat for the pursuit of a championship?


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