How Mike D'Antoni Can Ensure a Long Career as LA Lakers Coach

Jeff NisiusContributor IIMarch 10, 2013

DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 25:  Head coach Mike D'Antoni of the Los Angeles Lakers leads his team against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center on February 25, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Lakers 119-108. 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

For as much success as Mike D’Antoni had coaching the Phoenix Suns, he had an equally bad stint as the head coach of the New York Knicks

While his first season on the sidelines with the Los Angeles Lakers has been somewhat of a disaster so far, there are a few adjustments that could be made to that would undoubtedly lead to better results and ensure a long career with the Lakers.

First of all, the Lakers’ pace is far too fast for the team’s good. According to hoopdata, the Lakers have the fifth fastest pace in the entire league.  While the pace has allowed the Lakers’ offense to thrive, currently eighth in offensive efficiency, it has seriously hindered the team defense.

Last season, the Lakers’ defense finished 13th in the league in efficiency.  This season the Lakers’ defense is ranked 18th.  While that may not sound like a big drop off from one season to the next, this defense revolves around the three-time Defensive Player of the Year, Dwight Howard.

There are simply too many possessions in each game because of the Lakers’ pace.  Although the defense could improve if D’Antoni put more of an emphasis on getting stops and Howard were healthy and engaged, the simplest answer is to limit the number of total possessions.

The Lakers have elite talent on offense; they do not need to create all those extra possessions in order to be one of the better offensive teams in the league.  The problem comes on defense, where Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard can be relied upon to play good defense on two different levels of the floor.

Stan Van Gundy’s system with the Orlando Magic was designed to engage Howard on defense on nearly every possession.  The Magic would funnel their defenders into Dwight so he could alter and block shots.  It also helped that defense was one of the top priorities of Van Gundy. 

That clearly is not the case under D’Antoni.  While he does not need to put a large emphasis on defense, it would help if he could alter his offensive system and potentially hire an assistant to take over on defense, much like he did in New York with Mike Woodson.

Next, D’Antoni really needs to put an emphasis on getting his big men the ball where they are comfortable.  Dwight Howard was great in Orlando in the pick-and-roll.  While he has been put in that position under D’Antoni, he is also not getting the ball as much. 

In fact, he is attempting a career-low 2.5 attempts from three to nine feet.  Howard should be getting the ball more often running pick-and-roll actions with Steve Nash.

Conversely, Pau Gasol is being used too far from the basket, as evidenced by his career-high 4.2 attempts from 16-23 feet.  One of the most skilled bigs in the entire league is being pushed out near the three-point line in order to spread the floor in D’Antoni’s system.  This is one of the major reasons that Gasol’s efficiency and PER has dropped to the worst marks of his career.

Gasol and Howard are not being used properly under D’Antoni, because he has refused to adapt his offensive philosophy to his personnel. 

There is no reason that D’Antoni’s offensive mind should be unable to adjust and fit in two supremely talented bigs like Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard into his offensive system. This is one of the reasons why Laker fans are perturbed, to say the least, about D’Antoni’s coaching thus far.

Furthermore, one has to wonder what Dwight Howard is thinking.  He is being misused on offense and his defensive ability is being squandered in order to create more possessions on offense. 

In reality, Dwight Howard means far more to the Lakers than Mike D’Antoni does.  Should Dwight leave Los Angeles this offseason, some of the blame will fall squarely on D’Antoni’s shoulders.

Perhaps Dwight and Kobe Bryant really do not like each other.  Maybe Dwight just is not trying that hard and the reports of him not wanting to be a Laker were 100 percent true.  Either way, this is not a good situation for one of the all-time great professional sports franchises.

Part of their organization is essentially running off their next superstar, because they are unable to accept change and adapt their philosophies.

The Lakers future will always be bright, because very few teams in sports can offer the type of championship environment combined with great weather, like the Los Angeles Lakers.  However, there will be plenty of storm clouds ahead if Dwight Howard leaves in free agency. 

The chance to stay in the upper echelon out west is already on the roster.  Now it is up to Mike D’Antoni to change his stance and adapt to his personnel, like good coaches do.  If not, his tenure as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers will end unceremoniously.