Mike D'Antoni is in trouble.
After struggling to make the playoffs with a Los Angeles Lakers team that should’ve been a title contender last season, D’Antoni will be coaching with his job on the line in 2014.
There is no reason the Lakers shouldn’t earn themselves a convincing postseason berth in 2014. If the team doesn’t end up in the playoffs, D’Antoni will be gone.
Although he isn’t the second coming of Phil Jackson—despite the fact that he’ll constantly be compared to the "Zen Master" as long as he’s in Los Angeles—D’Antoni is a good coach.
He came into a tough situation last year, taking over the team five games into the regular season and not being given the luxury of a preseason and training camp to work with.
This year, after having a full offseason under his belt, will make or break him. It won’t be an easy ride, but if D’Antoni can make some key adjustments with the Lakers next season, he’ll keep his job.
Although unintentionally, D’Antoni allowed everything about the 2013 Lakers to become a circus last season.
Some of the attention was unwarranted, but a lot it was self-inflicted.
First and foremost, there was the infamous “rivalry” between Bryant and Howard that magnified the already overwhelming attention being paid to the team.
Well, "D12" is gone, so D’Antoni doesn’t have to worry about that one anymore.
Young has a tendency to pretty much do and say whatever comes to his mind, so that could result in some problematic situations for the team.
Don’t get me wrong, I love all of the energy that Young brings. But that isn’t going to change the fact that D’Antoni will have to stay on top of him.
It’s also imperative that D’Antoni keeps all panic to a minimum—both in the locker room and in the media. He handled himself well in the face of scrutiny last year, but he’s in Los Angeles and will absolutely get grilled in the press room after a few consecutive losses.
No more nonsense—2013 must be all about the hoops.
I would really hate to be the one to tell Kobe Bryant to come out of a game.
But that’s what D’Antoni is going to have to do next season, especially after his inability to do so in 2013 cost his team.
At 35 years old, Bryant ranked second in the NBA with 38.6 minutes a night (via ESPN). It’s understood that sometimes the "Mamba" simply won’t come out of the game, especially a close one. He thinks he’s indestructible, but the Achilles injury he suffered with just a pair of regular season contests left proved otherwise.
However, D’Antoni needs to sit down and work out a plan with Bryant once he gets back from that injury. Before he got hurt, No. 24 was playing an insane 45.2 minutes in the month of April.
That simply can’t happen again.
Sometimes, there’s just no stopping Bryant in the heat of battle—whether you’re a defender or a coach trying to take him out.
If Bryant and D’Antoni see eye-to-eye about playing time before the season even starts, it’ll make the coach’s job much easier and allow the franchise player to get through the entire season in one piece.
An unhappy Pau Gasol is an unproductive Pau Gasol. And an unproductive Gasol in 2014 will likely result in an unemployed Mike D’Antoni after next season.
Last year, the seven-footer attempted the fewest number of shots that he has in 12 years in the league (just 579). Consequently, Gasol's point total (673) and scoring average (13.7) was the lowest it had ever been, as well (via Basketball Reference).
D’Antoni’s offense has traditionally revolved around launching quick jumpers and forcing an up-tempo, fast-break pace. It’s hard to ask him to completely change his methods, but Gasol should finish the season with close to twice the amount of shots he took in 2013.
Pau will see action as the roller in pick-and-roll sets with Steve Nash, but D'Antoni must also get him some looks with his back to the basket.
Outside of Gasol, L.A. doesn’t have a bona fide post presence on the roster. Throwing the ball into the paint will result in easy buckets, open lanes and clear looks on the perimeter.
D’Antoni doesn’t have to do anything crazy—all he needs to do is get Gasol the rock.
The Lakers finished with the same record as the Chicago Bulls and just two games back of the Golden State Warriors last season. But yet, L.A.’s 2013 campaign has been viewed as one of the worst seasons in franchise history.
The Lakers did get swept in the first round of the playoffs, however,if Stephen Curry tore his Achilles and missed the postseason, Golden State wouldn’t have gotten very far, either.
What it comes down to is very simple: expectations.
Los Angeles was supposed to win a title last season but failed miserably. And it’s viewed as an even bigger flop because of the sprawling mountain range of expectations the team brought upon itself.
Nash and Howard were on magazine covers, Metta World Peace was predicting that they would only lose a single-digit amount of games and set the NBA record for wins in a season (via Sports Radio Interviews)—it was nuts.
Next season, D’Antoni’s mentality, and that of the team as well, can’t be “championship-or-bust.” It should be “let’s shock the world,” or “let’s show everyone what we can do.”
The Lakers aren’t supposed to be good—ESPN Summer Forecast ranked them as the 12th team in the Western Conference. But because of the lower expectations, Los Angeles will be better than last season.
When D12 made the decisions to become a Houston Rocket, the sky didn’t fall in Los Angeles.
D’Antoni finally has shooters in Young and Johnson that he can play out on the wing get to clean looks for through the pick-and-roll.
Outside of Bryant, the Lakers didn’t have a consistent three-point shooter last season and the team's mediocre 35 percent from beyond the arc indicated that.
Farmar is the most athletic point guard on the roster and is much better suited for the tempo that D’Antoni is comfortable playing with.
Nash won two MVP awards playing under D’Antoni on the Phoenix Suns, but he’s now approaching 40 years old and is not the player he once was.
Kaman is a big body in the paint, but will be invisible from any of the potential altercations or controversy that the Lakers had to deal with at the center position a season ago.
This is a completely different team from last season and actually fits D’Antoni’s coaching style.
In order for him to keep his job on the Lakers’ sidelines for years to come, he has to prove that he can maximize the potential lying within the 2014 team.
This is a playoff team.