Mike D'Antoni hasn't even been head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers for two weeks, and he is already dealing with player drama.
According to Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com, D'Antoni got a bit testy during his press conference following Los Angeles' loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night. The first words out of the offensive mastermind's mouth were about his disdain for players complaining about their share of touches.
Forward Pau Gasol was later identified as one of the players dissatisfied with his opportunities, calling for more time in the low post and less outside the paint. Gasol said:
I'm not a pure jump-shooter I can stretch the defense out and make a couple jumpers. But how I get going is by getting in the paint and creating off the post, things like that.
That's historically how I've been really successful and made a really good name for myself and earned my contracts. But hopefully I'll find a way and we'll find a way to get me a few opportunities there and get myself going in that way and be more effective.
Gasol's words may have some merit, as he has been terrible over his past two games. He has scored just 14 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in that stretch, shooting just 33 percent from the field. Center Dwight Howard has been equally bad, posting identical scoring and rebounding totals and shooting about the same from the field.
Thus, one can see why Gasol would be frustrated. The same can be said for Howard, who has yet to say anything this season but was vocal about his frustration over lack of touches last season with the Orlando Magic.
It is perfectly understandable why D'Antoni would feel exasperated at such a complaint, particularly because his run-and-gun system calls for a fast-paced, team-oriented offense. If just one player strays from his role and/or complains about it, the proverbial house of cards falls.
The veteran coach is no stranger to this type of drama. He clashed with Carmelo Anthony all of last season when coaching the New York Knicks, even resigning in March when his star player's ego and the Knicks' struggles became too much to bear.
But D'Antoni is in Los Angeles now, not New York, and he has one of the largest egos in the NBA on his team in guard Kobe Bryant. The five-time champion, despite professing his excitement over D'Antoni being hired, was quick to assert whose team the Lakers really were before the season even began.
Thus, if D'Antoni thought that he was going to be avoiding the "Superstar Syndrome" by heading to the Los Angeles Lakers, where his former Suns point guard Steve Nash had signed over the summer, he's in for a big surprise.
No matter how much he may try to incorporate the run-and-gun and make Steve Nash the chief of the offense, Bryant is always going to be the one in control. He may or may not have had a role in the firing of D'Antoni's predecessor, Mike Brown. So for D'Antoni, this season could be a repeat of the drama with Anthony.
This can all be changed through a number of approaches. First, Bryant could just give up the ball to his teammates more often, but that's only the tip of the iceberg.
Rather, D'Antoni needs to start listening to his players. Gasol isn't complaining just for the sake of doing so, but is offering a solution to the problem. He's telling his coach, "This is how to get the best out of me, so please have a little faith."
Yes, Howard is a better option at center in the traditional sense of D'Antoni's run and gun game, but what about when he is on the bench? Jordan Hill doesn't have the size and Robert Sacre doesn't have the experience to keep up with elite centers, so why not give Gasol a chance? By combining both approaches as necessary, a happy balance can be found and team chemistry issues can be avoided.
The saddest part of it all is that instead of keeping cool in light of Gasol's complaint, D'Antoni appeared exasperated, adding proof to the idea that he can't handle large egos. Even when Gasol's conditioning was questioned following the Lakers' loss to the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday, D'Antoni offered little to no support.
Where other coaches would have sat down with the player in question and offered pointers on how to improve in one particular area, D'Antoni basically said, "This is how things are going to be. If you can't adapt, I'll find someone who will."
That all being said, while D'Antoni knows how to run a fast-paced offense, he still has little to no idea of how to deal with superstars. His biggest star in Phoenix was Nash, but Nash has always been a team-first kind of guy. In Los Angeles, save for Nash, Bryant, Gasol and Dwight Howard are used to being stars and not taking a back seat for the sake of a win.
Unfortunately, history shows that D'Antoni won't get through to his superstars. His system is very specific, and his hesitance to adjust it to fit Carmelo Anthony's best attributes shows how he handles egos.
Unless D'Antoni can loosen the reins a little bit and find a way to keep everyone happy, the Superstar Syndrome will overtake him once again and probably run him out of NBA coaching for good.
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