Flawed Roster, Not Mike D'Antoni's System, to Blame for Lakers' Struggles

Ethan Sherwood Strauss@SherwoodStraussNBA Lead WriterJanuary 24, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 06:  Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers receives treatment after being cut on the nose in the game against the Denver Nuggets at Staples Center on January 6, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  The Nuggets won 112-105.  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 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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In an article detailing the sideshow that is the Los Angeles Lakers, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports pinned much of the blame on Mike D'Antoni's system and the coach's inflexibility.

Wojnarowski also opined that it was folly for Jim Buss to believe that the middle-aged Steve Nash could run such a system as he once did: 

Buss passed on the Lakers' glorious championship legacy to attach his franchise to the desert mirage of D'Antoni and Nash, a reunion tour born of a one-dimensional, gimmick offense and a point guard pushing 39 years old.

While I would agree that fans and team alike vested too much faith in a 39-year-old point guard, I believe that the D'Antoni blame has been misplaced and outsized. He certainly hasn't done a great job with this roster, but the bigger issue is that no coach could elevate this team to preseason expectations. 

The Lakers season was dead on arrival. They needed Dwight Howard to be healthy to even have a shot at contending, and Howard clearly hasn't been the same since back surgery.

This already average defensive team added non-defenders in Nash and Antawn Jamison to the mix, and with so many slow perimeter defenders, it was imperative that a fully healthy Howard clean up the mess.

The Orlando Magic were equally average on defense last season, while Dwight struggled with back issues en route to his ultimate shutdown. There was already precedent for a compromised Howard not saving a defense. 

And make no mistake, Dwight is a lot worse than he was injured, pre-surgery with the Magic. He has his moments, but he lacks the range and mobility that made him the league's unquestioned top defender in years past. 

Compounding the problem is that Howard is a center playing alongside another center in Pau Gasol. Gasol has also been slowed by injuries and D'Antoni certainly hasn't managed him well, but how was this tandem in any way workable?

It's 2013, not 1994. Teams don't successfully go with the twin-towers approach anymore.

With illegal defense long legalized, teams can swarm big men from all angles. For such a bigs-oriented system to be feasible, at least one of the towers needs to shoot and guard athletic forwards on the other side.

Gasol can shoot, but the low post is where he's best optimized. As for defense on athletic forwards, the plodding Pau can't handle athletes with agility or shooters with three-point range. There's also no bench to save L.A. in the event of a bad Gasol matchup, unless you consider Earl Clark to be that savior. 

The current criticism is that D'Antoni is relying on some kind of gimmick that stopped working long ago.

To be clear, spread pick-and-roll is not a gimmick. It's how the league operates these days.

Mike D's offense isn't as effective for a few reasons, but the main one is that the league has adopted it. Dallas won a title with a similar system, as did the Miami Heat. After D'Antoni left the Knicks, Mike Woodson found great success with that same approach.

To depict D'Antoni's style as misguided and unique is to ignore how it's really quite conventional these days. The mustachioed coach is a victim of just how influential he was. 

There are legitimate concerns regarding how D'Antoni has managed his roster, how he manages players in general and how he's coached defense this time around. But don't depict the man as some kind of snake oil salesman, hawking a phony offensive product.

Speaking of which, the Lakers are actually top-six in offensive efficiency, despite all the drama. Defense is the concern for this team, and it was an issue that could never be addressed without a healthy Howard.

Blame Mike Brown or Mike D'Antoni all you want, but it's not their fault that the Lakers have ducked far below expectations.