Mike D’Antoni will head into the 2013-14 season with a Los Angeles Lakers roster that will determine his fate in the City of Angels.
The Purple and Gold struggled in 2012-13 under the tutelage of D’Antoni despite having four potential Hall of Fame players on his roster. The Lakers won 45 games and were swept in the opening round of the playoffs.
To be fair, Los Angeles was simply decimated by injuries. Steve Nash missed 32 games while Pau Gasol was out of the lineup for 33 contests. Also, Jordan Hill was sidelined for 53 games while Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace were forced to sit out a combined 13 contests.
Furthermore, Kobe Bryant was lost toward the end of the regular season to an Achilles tear. The less-than-stellar health certainly serves as a legitimate reason for the team underachieving in D’Antoni’s first year in Los Angeles, but there is more to it.
Indeed, the coaching staff struggled to pair Howard and Gasol together, relegated Nash to a role of spectator, and may have run Bryant into the ground with an incredibly large dose of minutes.
Put all of those factors together, and the three-time Defensive Player of the Year in Howard—as well as Gasol—had the worst player efficiency rating (PER) since his rookie season in his one campaign under D’Antoni.
Nash was also a victim of the coaching. His PER figure in 2012-13 was the lowest he had produced since the 1998-99 campaign. One might be tempted to say this was a result of his age, but that is not entirely accurate.
His shooting was on par with some of his best seasons, and his rebounding was just as steady. He has never been a strong rebounder, but his numbers remained consistent with his career averages.
The decline in his production was a byproduct of the fact he no longer ran the offense. In previous seasons, Nash was the maestro and thus dictated the direction of every possession. It allowed him to set his teammates up for scores and average double-digit assists.
D’Antoni opted to put the ball in the hands of Bryant, and consequently, Nash’s productivity dipped. Things are different this time around, though.
D’Antoni was a controversial hire initially given that the roster was not tailored to his system, but the front office has since rectified that.
Howard shunned the Lakers in favor of the Houston Rockets over the course of the summer. Mitch Kupchak replaced him with Chris Kaman.
The former Dallas Maverick is a fluid, low-post player who moves well in concert with other big men. Over the course of his first preseason with the Lakers, Kaman and Gasol have had great chemistry together.
Granted, the Spaniard has had these types of almost telepathic connections with Howard and Andrew Bynum previously. However, the Gasol-Kaman combo is different in the sense that their skills actually complement each other.
Kaman is a decent mid-range shooter, which gives his partner room to operate down low. In addition, the former Los Angeles Clipper has a good pair of hands. He thus catches passes in traffic and finishes at the rim.
D’Antoni himself admitted to Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times that the synergy of his centers is compelling. “I've not traditionally loved two bigs together, but they have nice chemistry and they both are skilled," D'Antoni said. "We'll see going forward, but it looked good last night."
And as intriguing as the duo is, the complementary parts are just as interesting.
Nick Young is as electric as they come. He loves to dazzle, and according to Mark Medina of Inside SoCal, his coach certainly seems to enjoy it, given his insistence on his 2-guard shooting the ball. “He was on me when I was passing so much earlier today,” Young said Tuesday night at the NBA2K14 launch party at the Greystone Manor in West Hollywood. “I didn’t have that in a while. I’m excited.”
Young is good long-range shooter and also solid ball-handler. Hence, he can run the offense in a pinch and more importantly get his shot off against most defenders.
The first-time Laker will start either at shooting guard or small forward while Bryant recovers from his Achilles tear. When the two-time Finals MVP returns to the lineup, Young might enjoy a second-unit role, which will still give him scoring opportunities.
One of the biggest keys to success for both Young and the Lakers is the wizardry of Nash. The two-time MVP will be given the reins of the offense and turn it into a terror for the rest of the league.
Shooters and finishers surround Nash, thus allowing the Lakers to put pressure on opposing defenses. Also, when Bryant eventually rejoins the team, the offense will be in full gear.
In other words, D’Antoni will have the team he needs and wants. The coaching staff has the right combination of players to execute the spread pick-and-roll offense. Consequently, the team should thrive and enjoy some success in the Western Conference standings.
That in actuality makes the 2013-14 a make-or-break season for the former Phoenix Suns coach. In the event he fails with a roster built specifically for him, the Lakers will have to look elsewhere for a coach.
The 2013-14 campaign is the most pivotal of this current era of the Lakers, and D’Antoni factors heavily into the equation.
His inability to connect with Dwight Howard was part of the reason the big man left town, and it stands to reason it will have an impact on attracting free agents in the 2014 summer when Los Angeles will be armed with a tremendous amount of cap space.
Once upon a time, Carmelo Anthony faced the same dilemma Howard encountered with D’Antoni and ultimately won the power struggle. Anthony and Howard’s cases were similar because both players were improperly utilized and their respective teams underachieved under his direction.
Hence, D’Antoni must enjoy a successful season with the 2013-14 Lakers roster because his tenure is tied to its result. A good record coupled with a postseason berth validates his hiring and allows the front office to pursue big-name players that fit his system.
The names of LeBron James and Chris Bosh come to mind. Both are under contract and play together on a Miami Heat team with championship pedigree. However, each player has an opt-out clause in his deal allowing him to hit the open market at the conclusion of 2013-14.
They are entering the prime of their respective careers and would fit in perfectly in the spread pick-and-roll offense. But again, the odds of them joining Bryant in L.A. are fairly slim. Nonetheless, the 2014 free-agent class is an impressive one, and the Lakers should be able to acquire some solid players for D’Antoni (think Luol Deng for instance).
Mind you, in the event Los Angeles misses the postseason and ends the season with sub-.500 record, the coaching staff will more than likely be shown the door. Fair or not, a failed season will reinforce the notion that D’Antoni can only coach a specific set of players in a very particular setting.
Given that he has not been able to capitalize on the talents of Anthony and Howard, there will be a perception that he struggles with superstars who have a few deficiencies in their games.
It will be tough for the Lakers to sell free agents on the merits of joining a franchise with a head coach that cannot incorporate his best players into his offense. D’Antoni has the roster he needs heading into the season and it will determine his tenure as the Lakers coach.
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