When Mike D’Antoni took over the Los Angeles Lakers’ head coaching job, he couldn’t have imagined things would be this difficult. Losers of four of their last six contests, the Lakers continue to struggle on both ends of the floor. After a loss to the lowly Orlando Magic on Dec. 2, players and coaches were looking to one another for answers.
D’Antoni is an accomplished coach, and is definitely known for an innovative style. Although most of his inventiveness takes place on the court, he might try incorporating a modern idea into his strategy sessions in between games.
It’s a little crazy, but wouldn’t it be interesting if D’Antoni crowd-sourced his players in search of advice on how to snap the Lakers out of their funk?
Of the 15 bodies on the roster, surely somebody would have an idea that the coach hadn’t thought of. Who knows, maybe some of his players would even have suggestions that went beyond X’s and O’s.
As an imaginative exercise, let’s see what piece of advice every Los Angeles Laker would impart to Mike D’Antoni.
“Hi, coach. My name is Darius Johnson-Odom, and you might want to give me a shot. Just sayin’…”
Realistically, Johnson-Odom might want to start his interaction with Mike D’Antoni by introducing himself. Given that he’s played just six minutes all season, it’s possible D’Antoni doesn’t even know he exists.
Johnson-Odom resides on the far end of the Laker bench, but D’Antoni would be wise to take a longer look at the rookie from Marquette. Johnson-Odom’s college stats compare well with Jodie Meeks’, especially from beyond the arc. More importantly, Johnson-Odom has a reputation as a “strong, energetic defender.”
With the way the Lakers’ perimeter defense has been getting shredded lately, it might be worth it to toss the rookie out there to see what he can do.
“Don’t play me. It’s for the best.”
It’s possible Earl Clark is the worst frontcourt player in the NBA. So if he’s at all interested in truly helping his coach with useful advice, the three-year veteran should tell Mike D’Antoni to leave him on the bench.
Last year, Clark ranked in the bottom three among power forwards in field-goal percentage, true-shooting percentage and PER, according to John Hollinger. Oh, and he also turned the ball over almost 13 percent of the time he touched it. That’s not good.
Defensively, Clark hasn’t been any good, either. He peppers the highlights with the occasional blocked shot, but his Orlando Magic were better defensively last year when he was on the bench.
If Clark comes to D'Antoni with this piece of advice, at least he'll earn some honesty points.
“You should enjoy the little things.”
If you watched every single Lakers game, but only kept your eyes trained on Robert Sacre’s bench celebration antics, you’d probably think his team was undefeated.
Sacre, a rookie out of Gonzaga, seems to find particular joy on almost every play. It’s that kind of attitude that Mike D’Antoni should adopt during this bumpy stretch of get-to-know-you games he’s enduring as the Lakers’ new coach.
When things seem darkest, like they did in an embarrassing home loss to the Orlando Magic on Dec. 2, D’Antoni needs only look to Sacre for a reminder that there’s always something to be happy about.
“Please tell Robert Sacre to sit down.”
Devin Ebanks is spending long periods of time next to Sacre on the bench this season, and since D’Antoni doesn’t seem interested in letting Ebanks see the floor, the least he could do is help give him a clear view of the court.
Whenever Sacre starts one of the dozen dance routines he breaks into during every game, poor Ebanks gets his view of the action obstructed.
Ebanks has to be a little bummed about the way his career has stalled in his third season (along with his legal troubles), so having to deal with Sacre traipsing around in front of him after every made Laker basket can’t be helping his mood.
Coach D’Antoni doesn’t yet feel Ebanks deserves minutes behind Metta World Peace at the 3, so if the West Virginia product isn’t going to play, his coach could do him a solid by making it easier for him to watch.
“Don’t forget about what happened in Denver.”
When the Lakers brought Jodie Meeks in over the summer, they figured his outside shooting would help space the floor for their bigs and open up the lane to pick-and-roll traffic. It hasn’t really worked out that way, mostly because Meeks isn’t playing enough to affect much of anything.
Because he’s little more than a three-point specialist—and because some ageless guy named Kobe plays the same position—Meeks won’t ever log huge minutes. But when he does get on the floor for a decent stretch, the sharpshooter almost always tosses in a few threes.
Against the Denver Nuggets on Nov. 30, he shot 7-for-8 from long range in the Lakers’ best offensive performance of the D’Antoni era.
The Lakers have plenty of issues on offense, but it shouldn’t be that difficult to make sure Meeks plays enough (and gets enough shots) to do what he does best.
D’Antoni can’t ignore the fact that when Meeks played at least 13 minutes, the Lakers were 5-1.
“Play me with Pau Gasol. It works, I swear.”
Anecdotally, it would make sense to pair Jordan Hill with Pau Gasol in the frontcourt. Gasol is basically a center anyway, and Hill can hit the occasional mid-range jumper. In addition, his ability to step out of the paint allows Gasol to work on the block, where he’s most effective.
The numbers support that thinking, too. Every single lineup the Lakers have used this year that features Gasol and Hill together has a positive plus-minus figure. In contrast, when Hill plays at the same time as Howard, only one out of three lineups has a positive rating.
Even worse, the Lakers’ least effective lineup (a five-man unit they’ve used all but five others) features Hill and Howard. That unit has a dreadful minus-29 rating for the year.
D’Antoni should definitely heed this piece of advice. Hill and Gasol are terrific together. Hill and Howard? Yikes.
“You should consider wholesale offense/defense substitutions.”
Some teams do it at the end of games when possessions matter a little more, but Mike D’Antoni should really consider swapping Antawn Jamison out of the lineup every time the Lakers head back on defense.
Sure, it’d be tough, but there’s just no way the Lakers’ suddenly porous defense can survive with Jamison on the floor.
Now in his 15th year, the former Tarheel with the quirky, quick release is very much the same player he’s always been. Jamison has always scored plenty, but when asked to defend, he’s never been anything but terrible.
D’Antoni’s an innovative guy, so if anyone can figure out how to use Jamison as the basketball equivalent of a designated hitter, it’s him. Otherwise, the Lakers will continue to watch as Jamison promptly gives up on defense whatever he gets on offense.
“Always remember this, coach: I am never the answer to anything.”
Need scoring? Chris Duhon has averaged 6.7 points per game for his career. He's not the answer. Need efficient shooting? Duhon’s career field-goal percentage is under 40 percent. He's not the answer. Need a playmaker? Duhon is about as unspectacular as point guards get. He’s not the answer.
Maybe if this whole “Duhon is never the answer to anything” mantra gains a little steam, he’ll eventually become the answer to a pop culture trivia question: Who is never the answer to anything?
With Steve Nash’s broken fibula slow to heal and Steve Blake now out for an extended period with abdominal surgery in his future, Mike D’Antoni has a huge question mark at the point.
Guess who isn’t the answer.
“I hate to say it, coach, but I’m the best you’ve got.”
The point guard position has suffered all season long in Los Angeles. First, Steve Nash bit the dust. Then Steve Blake stepped on a parking garage spike strip, played horribly for two weeks and tore an abdominal. As we’ve covered already, Chris Duhon hasn’t provided any relief, either.
That leaves Darius Morris as D’Antoni’s last, best hope at the point.
While it’s not an ideal situation, the second-year player out of Michigan does give D’Antoni a few things to work with. He can hit a three, has excellent size at 6’4” and has the length to be a good defender.
He’s been losing minutes to Chris Duhon of late, but D’Antoni has to know that until Nash returns, Morris will have to play a big role. There’s really no other choice.
“Just when things look bad, keep in mind they can always get worse.”
Injured point guard Steve Blake doesn’t have the most positive advice for his coach, but we can forgive him for having a pessimistic outlook on things.
Poor Blake has suffered through freak injuries and declining play in the 2012-13 season. And now he’s going to be shelved for a 6-8 weeks with abdominal surgery. He hasn’t been the reason for the Lakers’ disappointing start, but he’s a pretty good symbol of the way things have been going.
D’Antoni might be pretty discouraged after losing to the woeful Orlando Magic at home on Dec. 2, but he needs to keep in mind that the Lakers can always fall even further.
For example, they play the Washington Wizards on Dec. 14. A loss to the NBA’s worst team would make things much worse.
Well said, Metta. Mr. World Peace isn’t a complicated basketball player, and his advice isn’t either. When the going gets rough for MWP, he bulls into someone or starts swinging elbows.
Maybe that’s exactly what D’Antoni and the Lakers need.
Too often during their disjointed start, the Lakers have looked like confused victims, palms up, searching for explanations. Instead, maybe they need to just start throwing their weight around.
With all the size and talent on the roster, why not try brute force? Throw some elbows, dole out some hard fouls, pick up some nasty charges. It’s time for the Lakers to get a little nuts.
And you know MWP is down for that.
“Please, for the love of God, just trade me.”
Pau Gasol, the Lakers’ lost soul, probably doesn’t know that D’Antoni’s not the guy making personnel decisions, but we can forgive him if his head’s a little foggy.
Gasol can’t find a niche in L.A. as long as Dwight Howard is occupying the block. The Lakers have stationed Gasol at the elbow, in the corner and on the wing in their various attempts at offensive strategy this year, and nothing has worked. The result of all the tinkering has been disastrous for the emotional Spaniard.
With averages of just 12.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 42 percent shooting, Pau is having the worst year of his career.
Gasol is still immensely talented, but at some point, D’Antoni and the front office are going to have to face the fact that the situation with their power forward simply isn’t fixable.
“I can be your hero, baby.”
When Steve Nash does return, the Lakers’ championship hopes will depend on his ability to transform the offense into the efficient machine everyone hoped it would be.
For D’Antoni especially, Nash represents something like a “last hope.” D’Antoni’s offense is designed specifically to make use of a terrific pick-and-roll operator, and Nash is (or was) the best in the business.
If Nash can’t fix this thing, nobody can.
Of course, Nash’s return will mean the Lakers’ defense is going to take a hit. He’s as smart a player as there is, but he’s just too physically limited to do anything besides hide on the defensive end.
Nash will be cast in the role of savior when he retakes the floor. If he fails to revive the Lakers, there’s nowhere else to turn.
So long, suckers.
“Don’t buy. Rent.”
Dwight Howard is no real estate professional, but D’Antoni would do well to heed his advice here.
Howard’s presence in L.A. beyond this season is anything but certain. He’s an unrestricted free agent, and there’s absolutely no reason to believe he won’t at least test the market.
The Lakers have only one player under contract in 2014: Steve Nash. Kobe’s deal ends after next season and if Gasol isn’t traded, his contract will also expire after the 2013-14 season.
With the way things are going right now for the Lakers, plus the fact that the only guy sure to be around in a couple of years will be a 41-year-old Nash, Howard could very easily pack his bags this summer.
And if Howard isn’t putting down roots, D’Antoni might want to re-evaluate his four-year agreement when he suddenly finds himself in charge of a roster with no stars.
Things are pretty fluid in L.A., and they figure to get even more unpredictable as free agency looms on the horizon.
Howard’s right. Nobody should be making long-term plans in Los Angeles just yet.
When D’Antoni was hired, Kobe immediately came out in support of the decision, and he’s been exceedingly positive in the press so far.
But by now, we should know that the real trouble starts when Kobe isn’t talking.
There hasn’t been a smoldering glare aimed at D’Antoni just yet, but if the Lakers continue to struggle on both ends of the floor, look out.
Kobe has silently doomed his coach once before. So even though D’Antoni probably won’t ever hear Bryant knock him, he’d better be checking game tape for death stares very carefully.