5 Ways Mike D'Antoni Could Be Fired by L.A. Lakers

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 13, 2012

5 Ways Mike D'Antoni Could Be Fired by L.A. Lakers

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    If the L.A. Lakers' desperation in the face of mounting losses and superstar discontent actually intensifies to the point that the organization decides to fire head coach Mike D'Antoni, they'll be able to provide any number of reasonable explanations. Of course, everyone will know that there's only ever one real reason to fire a coach, which is that his team simply didn't win enough games.

    So if D'Antoni gets kicked to the curb, don't be swayed by the patronizing rationalizations you're likely to hear from GM Mitch Kupchak and the Buss family.

    Maybe they'll talk about poor fits or injury woes. Perhaps they'll pin the decision on a stylistic disconnect or a desire to "move in a new direction."

    Don't buy that stuff.

    There's one way and one way only in which D'Antoni could be fired, and it's got nothing to do with the ephemeral explanations above.

    If the Lakers' coach gets his walking papers, it'll be because he didn't win.

    Sorry if that's anticlimactic, but that's all there is to it.

    Of course, there are a multitude of ways to lose games, so technically, there are plenty of routes to the unemployment line for D'Antoni. So far, he's done a pretty decent job of finding new methods of failure, but there are still loads of novel means he has yet to discover.

    Laker fans have been drowning their sorrows for a quarter of the season, so what follows shouldn't necessarily change the mood in Hollywood. Prepare for a pint of reality and shot of pessimism because there are a whole bunch of different ways Mike D'Antoni could be fired.


    Note: All stats accurate through games played Dec. 12

Keep Substituting Anger for Answers

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    After the latest disappointment float in the Lakers' season-long parade of woe, Mike D'Antoni had the unenviable task of explaining to the media how his team, shorthanded as it was, managed to drop a road contest to the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers on Dec. 11.

    In response to questioning about the Lakers' continued inability to defend, D'Antoni lost his cool.

    Look, D'Antoni was dealt a bad defensive hand. The theoretical starting lineup he inherited is composed of players who are defensive shells of their former selves (Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace), overrated "reputation" defenders (Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol) and a 38-year-old point guard who hasn't been even an average defender at any point in his career (Steve Nash).

    If that lineup ever actually saw the floor, it'd be one thing. But the fact that the fill-ins from the Laker bench are actually even worse on the defensive end means D'Antoni is coaching a team that will never be able to consistently stop the opposition.

    That's not his fault, and he should come to peaceful terms with it. The best he can do is continue to search for ways to hide the team's defensive issues. He's a smart enough guy to know that's what he should be doing.

    Instead, he's lashing out at reporters who are only pointing out the obvious. And if D'Antoni can't keep his cool in the face of mounting pressure, it gives the impression that he's losing control.

    With so much chaos swirling around his team, the Lakers' coach needs to at least appear to be the calm eye of the storm.

    The Lakers are going to continue to lose games because of their defensive shortcomings. If D'Antoni keeps popping off with anger instead of answers, the combined effect of those losses and his failure to maintain his composure could generate an ugly enough PR problem for the Lakers' brass to issue its second pink slip of the season.

Kobe Bryant Returns to Earth

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    If you think things look grim for Mike D'Antoni and the Lakers now, just imagine how much worse they'd be if Kobe Bryant weren't playing out of his mind.

    No. 24 gets a lot of flack for the misleading statistic that shows his Lakers are just 1-11 when he scores at least 30 points. Knock Bryant all you want for being selfish in past seasons, but what we're dealing with here is a clear mistake of correlation for causation.

    The fact is that Kobe has never been better. He's shooting less than he has since the 2003-04 season, and he's scoring more efficiently than he has at any point in his illustrious career.

    Check the numbers: Bryant's shooting 48 percent from the field, 39 percent from beyond the arc and 86 percent from the foul line. Those are all career-high rates.

    Knowing that, it's clear that there is no logical way to connect Kobe's scoring efficiency with the Lakers' poor record. Anyone who'd make such an intellectually lazy connection just isn't thinking straight.

    The problem, of course, is that Bryant is in his 17th season in the league. As great as he is, there's just no way he can keep this up. If Kobe starts to wear down before the rest of the Lakers' stars return to full health, L.A. could be in for an even bigger slide in the standings.

    As Kobe's return to earth causes the losses to pile up, D'Antoni will move ever closer to forced retirement.

The Gasol Situation Continues Heading South

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    At a glance, it sure seemed like Pau Gasol would fit perfectly into Mike D'Antoni's offensive system. Gasol's a brilliant passer, a decent mid-range shooter and has an adaptable basketball mind.

    But since his impressive performance in D'Antoni's bench debut against the Brooklyn Nets on Nov. 20 (17 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists), the Spaniard has been either ineffective or inactive.

    If D'Antoni's looking for ways to avoid the axe, he could do worse than starting with Gasol. If he can untangle the emotional knots that seem to be restraining his power forward, maybe the physical aches Gasol's feeling will also hurt less.

    It's been no secret that persistent trade talks have negatively affected Gasol over the past two seasons, so Coach D'Antoni has got to find a way to make Gasol feel wanted. He can do that by carving out a clear role for him and making sure Pau's in a position to succeed (which, by the way, should not involve him being 25 feet from the basket).

    If D'Antoni can't figure out a way to get something out of Gasol, the Lakers' already fragile chemistry could fall apart completely. And if L.A. decides to deal Pau when D'Antoni fails to resurrect his career, that'll just add another new ingredient to a disjointed, losing recipe.

    The further deterioration of the Gasol situation could easily lead to more losses and the end of the brief D'Antoni era.

Steve Nash Doesn't Cure What Ails the Lakers

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    Mike D'Antoni seems to be under the impression that Steve Nash will be able to magically fix everything that's wrong with the Lakers as soon as he returns. When asked in his introductory press conference with the team how long it would take for Nash to straighten out the Lakers' offense, D'Antoni said, "Give him an hour and a half."

    Any port in a storm, I guess.

    It's certainly true that D'Antoni's never had sustained success without Nash, and it's also undeniable that Nash makes any offense better. But how does any of that matter if the offense isn't what needs fixing?

    The Lakers currently rank seventh in the league in offensive efficiency with an average of 105.9 points scored per 100 possessions. On the other hand, they check in at No. 14 (right behind the Washington Wizards) in defensive efficiency.

    So, even if we assume that Nash will take the Lakers' offensive numbers to new heights as he enlivens L.A.'s dormant pick-and-roll attack, we certainly can't expect him to improve the team on the defensive end.

    Waiting for Nash to save a team that already can't defend is like adding horsepower to a racecar that has no brakes. You're not really addressing the key issue.

    When Nash can't cure everything that ails the Lakers, it'll be D'Antoni who hits the road.

The Lakers Miss the Playoffs

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    When the Lakers assembled their big four by acquiring Dwight Howard and Steve Nash this past summer, there were plenty of L.A. fans putting champagne on ice. But a quarter of the way into the season, Mike D'Antoni and his team should probably start focusing on more modest goals.

    Forget winning a championship, D'Antoni should be worried about making the playoffs at all.

    At just 9-13, the Lakers are currently two games behind the Dallas Mavericks for the eighth seed in the Western Conference, which means the franchise's seven-season streak of postseason berths is in real jeopardy.

    What once seemed unthinkable now feels completely plausible.

    The West's top four seeds are all playoff locks, as the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies and L.A. Clippers aren't going anywhere. But with a surprising Golden State Warriors team sitting in fifth, that still leaves the Mavericks, Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves for the Lakers to try to leap over in the rankings.

    Right now, do the Lakers look better than at least three of those teams? Based on their latest embarrassing loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, it's hard to say yes.

    Failing to make the dance would be an unqualified disaster for the Lakers. For D'Antoni, it would mean certain termination.