Mike D'Antoni Will Make or Break the Los Angeles Lakers' Season

Hayden KimCorrespondent IIIJanuary 5, 2013

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 26:  Head coach Mike D'Antoni of the Los Angeles Lakers leads his team against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on December 26, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Lakers 126-114. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Believe it or not, it has now been 27 games since the firing of Mike Brown took place back in November. Since then, the Los Angeles Lakers have managed to pull together a 14-13 record and are sitting way back in the standings at 11th place in the Western Conference. Lakers fans, however, have remained optimistic about the team's chances of making a late run heading into the playoffs—for understandable reasons.

Kobe Bryant is having one of the best statistical seasons of his career, averaging 30.3 points alongside 5.4 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game, and Dwight Howard—despite his bad back—has still managed to post 17.3 points along with 11.9 rebounds on the season. You may look at the Lakers' record and immediately count them out of the playoffs, but the season is far from over.

The most important thing for this Laker team will simply be to make the postseason. Due to the low chances of gaining home-court advantage at this point in the season with their current record of 15-17, the Lakers must face the reality that they will have an uphill road test waiting for them in the playoffs if they manage to make it.

But aside from their bad record and inconsistent play, the Lakers still have a bigger problem which may be unresolvable—and that lies with coach Mike D'Antoni.

Even before the Lakers—or should I say Jim Buss—decided to hire Coach D'Antoni, there were many doubts about how he would fit in with this aging Laker team. And, not surprisingly, it hasn't been a good fit at all. 

After they lost to the Los Angeles Clippers last night, 107-102, it was evident that the Lakers were in desperate need of major coaching adjustments. Forget Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace combining for a total of four points and focus more on the late-game strategy of Coach D'Antoni.

It seemed like Bryant was taking every shot down the stretch, and though it was working against the Clippers, Coach D'Antoni has proven that he doesn't know what to do expect to give Bryant the ball and let him do whatever he wants during the winding moments of the game. Sure, Steve Nash had that brilliant alley-oop pass to Bryant with the clock winding down, but how many times have we seen that from the Lakers down the stretch, or better yet, the entire season?

Bryant may have finished with 38 points on a solid 15-of-25 shooting, but if you looked at the stats, you would quickly realize that he took a third of the Lakers' total 75 attempts.

Now, Kobe has earned every right to take over the game in the fourth quarter, as it has become second nature for him to do so, but to see Coach D'Antoni failing to run pick-and-rolls successfully with his favorite player in Nash, or simply doing anything other than letting Kobe go one-on-five, is outright ridiculous.

Coach D'Antoni was supposedly brought in because Jim Buss truly believed that D'Antoni would fit with the personnel of this current Laker team. Obviously that isn't the case, and now the Lakers are living with this decision every game they play. 

Coming into this season, the Lakers were projected to have a one-to-two-year window to contend for a title, and contending was expected due to the firepower the team had in Nash, Gasol, Bryant and Howard. But this window has quickly become a big fat question mark, as this Laker team struggles to find a way to make the playoffs this season—something the Lakers franchise isn't accustomed to even thinking about.

Now onto Pau Gasol. Gasol is arguably having the worst season of his 12-year career, averaging just 12.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, but it all comes back to Coach D'Antoni and his failure to understand how to use the skillful big man. I, for one, have been an advocate of keeping Gasol as opposed to trading him because I know deep down that he still has a lot to give, even in the late stages of his career. Gasol is too skillful and talented of a big man to be wasted on outside jumpers and fancy interior passes. If Coach D'Antoni continually fails to realize that Gasol will better succeed down low with Howard, then all bets are off with this season and team.

But even with the problems with Coach D'Antoni's system and chemistry issues, the Lakers still have a shot at making a comeback. With Howard slowly returning to his old self, Nash coming back strong and Bryant firing on all cylinders, the Lakers still look to have a legitimate shot at making noise this year despite all that has transpired in 32 games thus far. 

In order for the Lakers to have even the slightest shot at making a run in the playoffs, Coach D'Antoni will first have to adjust his strategy for this team—even if that means setting aside his infamous ego. Coach D'Antoni has been notorious for having a hard time adjusting to his personnel when his system doesn't work, and the sooner he realizes the Lakers aren't the New York Knicks, the faster the Lakers will start winning games. 

The 2012-2013 season has been one for the ages—in a bad way—for the Lakers. What started with optimism and excitement soon turned into disappointment and anger. Many fingers have been pointed at Kobe for shooting too much, Gasol for losing all sense of playing like a formidable big man and the bench for not improving, but it is clear now that all of these problems lead back to one thing and one thing only—and that is Coach D'Antoni.

It may not necessarily be all his fault, considering that Jim Buss has single-handedly managed to destroy the most cherished NBA franchise in a matter of two seasons, but the reality is that Coach D'Antoni must do what he can to turn around this season. When a group of people is in a burning building, they don't just give up—they do what they can to get out, and that is what the Lakers need to do with their remaining 50 games.

If Coach D'Antoni can prove the world wrong and make changes to better suit this Laker team, do not count the Lakers out, even this late in the season. Jim Buss may have ruined the Lakers of World Peace's predicted 73-9 season, but who isn't to say the Lakers come close to World Peace's most recent prediction of winning 62 games and end up making the playoffs? This is not out of the question, even for this Laker team, and it will all lie on Coach D'Antoni's shoulders.