LA Lakers' Roster Now Makes Sense for Mike D'Antoni System, So He'd Better Win

Thomas DuffyFeatured ColumnistJuly 25, 2013

Jan. 30, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA: Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni prior to the game against the Phoenix Suns at the US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Mike D’Antoni’s job will be on the line next season after a wildly disappointing 2013 campaign with the Los Angeles Lakers.

To be fair, D’Antoni was thrown into a tough situation in Los Angeles. Mike Brown was fired just five games into the season, and Bernie Bickerstaff became interim head coach. D'Antoni took over, had to handle Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard on the same roster, and tried to force his run-and-gun offense on an older team that wasn’t built for it.

To make matters worse, D’Antoni didn’t have the luxury of a preseason or training camp before taking the helm in L.A.

After Howard left L.A. for the Houston Rockets this summer, Mitch Kupchak acquired a pair of shooters in Wesley Johnson and Nick Young who will thrive in the team’s up-tempo offense. In addition, Chris Kaman—a serviceable center who won’t demand as many touches as D12—signed with the Lakers to play alongside Pau Gasol.

Young has bounced around the league, but the 28-year-old guard fits right in perfectly with Los Angeles. He’s never averaged less than 35 percent from three-point territory in his six-year career, and he finished last season with 10.6 points per game.

Johnson has just three years of NBA experience, but he’s shown a ton of upside in two seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves and one with the Phoenix Suns. The freakishly athletic forward can shoot (he shot 41 percent from the field last season) and can defend on the perimeter.

In his 10 years in the NBA, Kaman has averaged about 12 points and eight rebounds. He’s coming off of a season where he shot over 50 percent from the field and close to 80 percent from the free-throw line.

The Mamba will be back for opening night hungrier than ever, and Steve Nash will have more success with Gasol as the featured big man in the pick-and-roll than he did with Howard.

Next season’s roster is being built to cater around D’Antoni’s style of play. And for that reason alone, he’d better win.

D’Antoni is understandably happy about the moves that the team has made this summer, according to Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times:

"I'm excited about it," D'Antoni told earlier in the week in Las Vegas. "I think that [General Manager] Mitch [Kupchak] did an unbelievable job ... at getting the best available two guys who can really score and can play. We got lucky. I'm really looking forward to coaching them."

Center Kaman accepted a one-year deal from the Lakers for $3.2 million. Swingman Young signed a two-year deal at the minimum with a player option on the second season.

The Lakers have also added forward/guard Wesley Johnson, re-signed center Robert Sacre and have a deal pending with point guard Jordan Farmar. Second-round pick Ryan Kelly (48th) is also likely to sign before the season as well.

In all likelihood, the Lakers aren’t going to be crowned NBA champions next season. Realistic goals for the team include putting up a ton of points, playing fun basketball and at least making a run in the postseason.

There was no excuse for Los Angeles finishing with a record of 45-37 and getting swept in the first round of the playoffs in 2013. The team began the season with 11-2 odds to win the title, according to CBS Sports, and come up worlds short of expectations.

As fans clamored for the return of Phil Jackson and Bryant endorsed Brian Shaw, Jim Buss and the Lakers front office inexplicably elected to choose D’Antoni to replace Brown as head coach early last season. Although he is more than worthy of an NBA coaching job, bringing in the former New York Knicks and Suns coach made absolutely no sense at the time.

The roster didn’t fit the coach at all. D’Antoni’s offense revolves around pick-and-rolls, a lot of jumpers and getting up and down the floor quickly. Last year’s Lakers had two elite post players in Howard and Gasol who were basically ignored until Bryant got hurt.

In all fairness to D’Antoni, his own style is all that he’s known. Should he have been able to adjust accordingly based on the roster that he took on? Absolutely. But why would the team sign him in the first place if that’s what he was going to have to do?

2013 was, by all means, a failure. D’Antoni stubbornly refused to incorporate Howard and Gasol into the offense and allowed Bryant to push himself far past his physical limitations. A team that was supposed to win a title, or at least contend for one, got embarrassed in the first round of the playoffs.

Next season needs to be different, though. It must be if D’Antoni wants to keep his job.

He will have to find a way to bring out the best in Young, Johnson, Kaman and the rest of the squad through a pick-and-roll-heavy offense centered around Bryant, Nash and Gasol.

If he can’t make it work in L.A. with a roster that is tailored toward his style, don’t expect to see D’Antoni on the Lakers’ bench after next season.