One Hot Seat: Mike D'Antoni Has A Full Season To Make Believers of the Skeptics
Mike D'Antoni is either the luckiest NBA coach in history or this year's recipient of the Lame Duck Award, given annually to the league's most obvious human pinata.
Management called Howard's bluff, did not fire their coach, and watched the big man leave town.
When your starting center (Pau Gasol) is a 33-year-old former All-Star who was benched last year because the head coach wanted to "try to win", you've got to be thinking that it's going to be another bumpy ride for what is arguably the most iconic franchise in NBA history.
ESPNLA's Arash Markazi seems to think that if "the team shows progress and makes the playoffs", then D'Antoni will keep his job after this season. Is that really enough?
Critics will argue that D'Antoni had all the ammunition he needed to meld last year's Lakers into championship contenders.
Despite having four players (Nash, Howard, Gasol and Bryant) who one day will enter the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, D'Antoni spent much of the season trying to figure out how to coach them.
He eventually gave way, allowing his starters to determine what was the best "system" for them to be successful. It certainly wasn't his.
Only the unrelenting determination of one Kobe Bryant kept the Lakers from fading into regular season oblivion before one playoff game had even been whistled. We all know what happened—Bryant does more than he should, plays too long, ruptures his Achilles, and the Lakers get swept out of the first round by the San Antonio Spurs.
So now what? D'Antoni is this year's gatekeeper, the team's guardian of respectability. Laker fans are counting on him to get the most out of a disjointed, over-the-hill, rag tag collection of players, who will be extremely lucky to qualify for an eight seed in the highly competitive Western Conference.
Still, there can be no excuses this season for D'Antoni. Working with a miniscule, over-the-cap budget, management (Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss) has brought in the type of players who fit into D'Antoni's philosophy of quick, end-to-end, spread-the-floor, spot-up-and-shoot basketball.
Wes Johnson, Shawne Williams, Xavier Henry, Jordan Farmar, Marcus Landry, Elias Harris, Chris Kaman, Nick Young, and Ryan Kelly are all new to this year's club and they all can play that up tempo game D'Antoni is so enamored with.
But where does that leave Bryant, Nash and Gasol—all starters who really can't play up-and-down basketball for 35 minutes a night?
The Lakers will be entertaining, but that doesn't mean they'll win. Without Howard clogging up the middle, the team may be one of the league's worst on the defensive end, even with Kurt Rambis lending his expertise from the sidelines.
The bottom line is that D'Antoni has a mediocre track record using the Mike D'Antoni system. Sure, his Phoenix Suns teams won 62, 54, 61 and 55 regular season games from 2004 to 2008. But, during that same time, D'Antoni's record as a playoff coach was a pedestrian 26-25.
And since that time, he is 0-8 with the Knicks (2011) and Lakers (2013), bowing out in the first round both times.
What can possibly change during this transition season for Jim Buss to think he and Kupchak made the right decision in hiring the 62-year-old D'Antoni?
Aside from his adoration for Steve Nash, D'Antoni has never been one to endear himself to his players. And isn't player/coach chemistry an integral part of a winning formula?
Reserve center/forward Jordan Hill was a non-factor for D'Antoni when both were in New York and now the coach is telling him to work on being more of a stretch 4 forward (via Matt Moore CBSSports.com) this season. Not a very wise move, considering that Hill is one of the league's top defensive stalwarts and an above-average scorer close in to the basket.
Former Lakers forward Antawn Jamison—now with the Clippers—also had his share of issues with D'Antoni, though he partially defended him.
He recently told DeAntae Prince of The Sporting News:
Mike was pretty much put in a difficult situation. There was no training camp where he could get a feel for guys. There was a breakdown of communication when we first got there. And throughout the season it was kind of up and down.
I don't dislike Mike. I obviously respect him as a coach. In my eyes, one of the best offensive-minded coaches in the league. I just think he was put in a tough situation...but toward the end of the season you saw him kind of open up, and we started to have a relationship, and I kind of understood where he was coming from.
Apparently not enough for Jamison to stick around.
And, so Mike D'Antoni gets his first full season as head coach of the Lakers. He has new players and new assistant coaches and his footprint will be all over this team. At least until Kobe Bryant returns from the training table.
On some levels, there is less pressure for D'Antoni because no one expects these Lakers to win anything. Still, he remains on the proverbial hot seat.
Is this the guy to lead the Lakers of 2014, when the true rebuilding begins? My gut says no, but then, I never thought Mike D'Antoni was the right fit to begin with.
You can bet all eyes will be focused on the job he does this year and how well he manages all of his players.