And that's a problem—for the Lakers.
While many are quick to point at Mike D'Antoni's offense-first, defense-never system as the primary source of Los Angeles' trials and tribulations, it's not his system. It's him.
Placing the tactical blame for the Lakers' defensive deficiencies and subsequent downfall solely upon D'Antoni's shoulders is unfair. He can't actually step foot on the court and correct the Lakers' 29th-ranked transition defense. He can't personally protect the rim and force his team to allow fewer than 42.3 points in the paint per game.
He can't physically will Los Angeles into a competent defensive existence or winning state.
But he can inspire the Lakers to play better, push them to care. He can hold them accountable for what they're doing wrong.
Or rather, he's supposed to be able to. Yet he's not.
That was D'Antoni's greatest pitfall in New York—his inability to be seen as more than an offensive vessel; his inability to be seen as a leader.
D'Antoni couldn't inspire his team to play defense or expend more energy. He couldn't convince them to become a team. And, per Howard Beck of the New York Times, he couldn't enliven Carmelo Anthony at all:
D’Antoni resigned as the Knicks’ coach in March, with the team underachieving and Anthony, the franchise star, rebelling against his leadership. The Knicks’ fortunes changed under Mike Woodson’s no-nonsense approach, and Anthony—by his own admission—played harder.
Woodson now looks like a coach of the year candidate. Anthony is an early favorite for most valuable player. D’Antoni looks miserable, which surely pleased his many detractors in the Garden stands.
What's important here is that the Knicks are not still in disarray. Woodson took over during the middle of last season and led the Knicks to an 18-6 finish. The Knicks are now 17-5 thus far this season and a perfect 9-0 at home.
What's even more important here, though, is that Anthony has fueled this cause. He has become the three-point shooter (45.5 percent) D'Antoni needed him to be. He has become the defender we all knew he was capable of emulating.
And he's done all this at Woodson's behest. Not D'Antoni's, Woodson's. The type of coach the Lakers need.
Because he both preaches and practices accountability. It doesn't matter who the player is, be it a superstar, role player or bench warmer; Woodson is going to hold him accountable.
When he first took over the Knicks last season—before the interim tag was removed—he wasted no time (via Al Iannazzone of Newsday) in ensuring the general public and the Knicks themselves he would be on the players' cases:
I’m going to hold these guys accountable for that, being the coach. There’s some things that will be changed as we move along. But I am very excited about being the coach here and I’m going to make the most of it.
Woodson isn't one to fully trust those in his command to make the right decision. Sure, he trusts them to an extent, but that's only one aspect of coaching. Another is serving as an inspirational authority figure, someone who doesn't just trust that you'll do the right thing, but ensures that you do it.
That's not D'Antoni. He provides a laid-back presence, someone who isn't going to make waves; the most controversial decision he's arguably made in his coaching career is benching Pau Gasol.
The Lakers need more, though; they need someone to push them, someone who, come hell or fatally high water, is going to do more than just believe.
It's easy to look at the Knicks, see a different roster and downplay the effect Woodson's personality has on his squad. That said, how do we explain the 18-6 finish Woodson led the Knicks to last season, the same Knicks who D'Antoni coached to 18-24?
Better yet, how do we explain the Lakers losing six of their last seven and still playing like they're lost, like they're void of direction?
D'Antoni can arguably trust veterans like Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard to carry themselves, but complimentary pieces like Jodie Meeks, Antawn Jamison and Metta World Peace among others need to be pushed. Even Bryant and Howard need to be coached. Dwight shouldn't be the only one urging Kobe to play defense, after all.
But here the Lakers are, five games under .500, currently outside of the Western Conference playoff picture. And there D'Antoni sits, often speechless, watching as the team he failed reaches new heights while bearing witness to another rupture in the making.
Would someone more like Mike Woodson have been a better coaching option for the Lakers?
Is D'Antoni's system the right fit for this version of the Lakers?
That much is debatable, but what's not is Los Angeles' need for a stronger presence, someone who will confront the team's problems dead on.
Someone who will serve as an obstacle his players need to overcome when the situation calls for it.
They need Mike Woodson. Look at how far he has brought the Knicks; look at how he has transformed Anthony into an MVP-caliber player.
So yeah, they need Woodson. Or someone like him at least.
Because D'Antoni sure isn't.