Mike D'Antoni has been frustrated over his team's inconsistency.
How much faith can you realistically put into Mike D'Antoni's coaching system with a Lakers team that continues to struggle game after game?
And how much of what ails this superstar-studded squad can be blamed on the players and how much of it on their head coach?
Since being hired to replace the fired Mike Brown, D'Antoni has insisted that the Lakers would be a running bunch who would average between 110-115 points a game. If it didn't, he said, the system would be a failure.
Check the stat sheet. The system is a failure.
What are we to assume now that D'Antoni has had the team for almost half of a season? The Lakers are averaging just 102.6 points per game while the defense is giving up six points more than last year.
Frustration continues to mount for a team that was picked by many to win it all after nabbing Dwight Howard and Steve Nash during the offseason. Pau Gasol has been relegated to "permanent" bench status and, as NBA analysts Kenny Smith and Shaquille O'Neal discussed Monday night after the Lakers' 12-point loss in Chicago, the system is what is suffering the most in L.A.
Kobe Bryant spoke up last month to a reporter from AP (via FoxSports.com): ''This is one of the most challenging stretches of my 17 years, and the most baffling, too. 'We have the talent and personnel to do it, but we're not, and it's baffling. It's extremely frustrating."
After Monday's loss, which dropped L.A. to 17-24, Bryant hit the weight room and then the piano, where he played Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata to calm himself down.
The system is overheating.
Mike D'Antoni brought his brother Dan to help with the Lakers defense. That, obviously, has not worked well.
Perhaps Mike D'Antoni took a quick look at the stats from last year and assumed the Lakers needed no help with their defensive game.
After all, the Lakers as a team surrendered just 95.9 points per game last season in compiling a somewhat respectable 41-25 record. Perhaps D'Antoni figured the team didn't need much help there.
What he also saw upon being hired was the anemic 97.3 points per game offensive output for the purple and gold. With new players (Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks, Earl Clark), the Lakers have upped team scoring by a little over five points.
But that is still not much compared to D'Antoni's run-and-gun Phoenix teams.
The Lakers defense has gone from being somewhat stingy to downright porous and ugly. Teams around the league know they can move at will in the paint and score a lot of easy baskets.
In addition to Mike D'Antoni, the Lakers have six assistant coaches. One would think one of them might know how to implement a sound defensive scheme that stresses side-to-side coverage, staying in front of their man and being aggressive on the boards.
When your team only gives up 96 points per game in the prior season and then adds the three-time Defensive Player of the Year (Dwight Howard) to its roster, it would have you believe that defense would be a priority.
Of course, the players must accept responsibility, but it's the coaches who set the agenda and, so far, that cupboard looks quite bare.
Run and un is for a younger, more athletic team. Lakers offense is struggling to find its rhythm.
Coaches should adapt to the players they are handed.
Mike D'Antoni has had a tough time doing that, choosing instead to implement a system in L.A. that worked offensive wonders while he was the head coach of the Phoenix Suns.
D'Antoni was able to convince the Lakers (namely, Jim Buss) that his system of up-tempo play would work. Check that: The Lakers brass (namely Jim Buss) wanted D'Antoni and reached out to him, thinking his style would be the perfect fit for Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Metta World Peace and Pau Gasol.
As it turns out, both sides were wrong, and it's costing them dearly now. The vaunted D'Antoni offense should be scoring 110 points per game, according to its architect. Instead, halfway through the regular season, the Lakers are at 102.6 and seem lost in a system that's designed for young, athletic, quick guards and wings.
The Lakers are big in the middle with Gasol and Howard. They could thrive playing together, but the system needs to be more of a half-court offense where the point guard gets the ball down in the blocks for one or the other.
Now Gasol has been given "permanent" bench status, something the 7-foot Spaniard has never experienced in all his years playing as an All-Star center/power forward. He has been productive coming off the bench the past few games, but Gasol should be starting alongside Dwight Howard because together, they give the Lakers tremendous presence in the paint and on the glass.
As Steve Aschburner wrote on NBA.com, D'Antoni has placed Gasol squarely in the doghouse.
Gasol isn’t happy. He has had a target painted on his back by many Lakers fans and, with his play, he’s put some finishing touches on it too. He knows he might be dealt by the February trade deadline. But he tried for the high road. ”It starts by us being on the same page,” the veteran power forward said. “Having each other’s back, just being supportive of each other. Not making excuses. Not pointing fingers.
Earl Clark only got to play when three big men for Lakers went down with injuries.
If anyone can explain how the Mike D'Antoni player rotation system works, please raise your hand.
How is it that players like Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks, brought to L.A. for their scoring abilities, are allowed to vanish for games at a time for no apparent reason?
Or why did Earl Clark need for Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill to go all down with injuries before D'Antoni threw him a bone and put him into a game?
The 6'9", 25-year-old Clark has done so well in such a short period of time that D'Antoni thought he should become a starter. And so Pau Gasol, now back from injury, is being asked to come off the bench with the reserves.
It's a great career move for Clark, who has been one of the few bright spots for the Lakers in January. As a 6'10" forward, Clark's game is better suited to D'Antoni's small-ball concept.
But sending Pau Gasol to the bench and asking the two-time World Champion to head the second unit is a bad move on many levels. And it could eventually lead to Gasol being traded before the February 21 deadline. That is, if Mitch Kupchak can work magic and find a taker.
Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register spoke with D'Antoni about this latest roster rotation:
Said D'Antoni about his conversation with Pau Gasol: “You can’t keep going back and forth and guessing. That’s life. He understands. You have to have an identity. And you have to create an identity.”
The Phoenix Suns of eight years ago were tailor-made for speed, movement, quick shots and up-tempo pace. Lakers are built differently.
How often do we hear from Kobe Bryant that the Lakers are too old and too slow to play an up-tempo game? Daily? By the hour?
Of late, it seems that way.
As much as Bryant says he respects the brilliance of Mike D'Antoni's offensive schemes, the bottom line is that this group of L.A. Lakers was built to win championships, not built to break down from running up and down the court for 48 minutes.
Via the Los Angeles Times' beat writer Mike Bresnahan, Bryant expressed his frustrations over his team's inability to master whatever it was their coach was trying to implement. Following their 95-83 loss to the Bulls in Chicago, Bryant said:
It is "very, very tough … very, very frustrating. I am trying to keep my cool.
"We're going to have to change something … probably going to have to post the ball a lot more, slow the game down a lot more. I am a big history guy. Playing here in this arena with these incredible fans, you're in the house [that] M.J., [Scottie] Pippen, P.J. built. To put this kind of brand of basketball on the floor is just not acceptable."
Mike D'Antoni will make or break the Lakers this season by using his system. But he could end up doing it and alienating his star players in the process.
Dwight Howard had five attempts in the game against the Bulls on Monday. If the team posts the ball more, as Bryant suggests, then Howard will be able to take more shots—it is that simple.
Any way you look at it, there seems to be a disconnect between players and coach.
Mike D'Antoni has a three-year contract but a short leash with the Lakers.
The New York Knicks were 18-24 last February when Mike D'Antoni suddenly resigned from the team, citing differing philosophies with ownership on how best to run the team.
This, from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports on March 12 of last year:
Does it sound eerily familiar? Could this be happening with the Lakers?
Every head coach in the NBA comes with a philosophy and an approach on how best to play the game. Their job is to get their team to buy into that approach. Otherwise, it doesn't matter how much talent is on the roster, the team will implode.
The Lakers head to Memphis on Wednesday to take on the 26-14 Grizzlies. L.A. is 17-24 and has lost nine of its past 11 games. This is a team in a downward spiral.
The supporters of Mike D'Antoni are still out there, and they continue to make excuses for why the Lakers are floundering: injuries, lackadaisical defense, not playing together as a team.
All are legitimate reasons for the Lakers' woeful season. And none of them matter.
What will matter is how this team finishes. If L.A. fails to make the playoffs, it will go down as one of the biggest embarrassments and disappointments in team sports history.
And its coach is certain to get much of the blame.