UPDATED on Dec. 24 at 4:15 p.m. ET
With the Lakers' public relations team in damage control mode, the coach backed away from his previous criticisms of Purple and Gold nation, via Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:
D'Antoni apologizes today: "We're in a tough state right now...It came out wrong b/c I was agitated. We need everybody behind these guys."— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) December 24, 2013
Are these simply hollow, reactionary words? Or did the coach really get caught up in the heat of the moment? Per Los Angeles Daily News' Mike Medina:
Mike D'Antoni calls himself an "idiot" for the comments he made last night about Laker fans— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) December 24, 2013
It seems as if D'Antoni is wisely asking fans to concentrate on the aspect he should have highlighted himself the first time around: sticking up for his guys and focusing on the positives. Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN:
D'Antoni: "I apologize & and we’ll move on. But, we need everybody to be behind these guys. They’re going to play as hard as they can play"— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) December 24, 2013
We'll see how Lakers fans feel when they greet their coach for Wednesday's home tilt with the defending two-time champion Miami Heat.
--End of update--
Given his medically thinned rotation, no one would blame coach Mike D'Antoni for the struggles of his Los Angeles Lakers.
But if there's heat burning under his coaching seat now, then he was the one setting the fire.
After a worst-case-scenario road trip—two losses by an average of 23 points—the Lakers are hobbling into their Christmas showdown with the Miami Heat. There isn't a healthy point guard on the roster, and the shock is still settling in from Kobe Bryant's knee fracture.
For a franchise as proud as this, surely an injury-riddled 13-15 start would be just cause for disappointment, discouragement and all other emotional letdowns, right?
Wrong—at least according to the coach.
"If [Lakers fans are] discouraged, then find another team to root for," the coach said after his team suffered a 117-90 rout by the Phoenix Suns on Monday, via Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times. "We're not going to give up. Are you kidding me? Discouraged? That's not even fair to these guys."
But it's fair to point a BB gun at the boo birds that may or may not exist in Laker nation? Come on. You'll shoot your eye out, Coach. Per Mike Greenberg of ESPN:
Mike D'Antoni to frustrated #Lakers fans: "Find another team to root for." Memo to coach: That is number one on list of things to never say.— Mike Greenberg (@Espngreeny) December 24, 2013
Bottling up the team's issues won't actually remove them. There's a reason this team is struggling, and it starts in L.A.'s star-studded training room. Injuries are an unavoidable part of the business and an omnipresent source of despair in the sports world.
Notice the issue that D'Antoni is addressing here. It's not fans turning their backs on this team, it's simply a growing concern over the Lakers' unimpressive marks. If you can't appreciate the cheers in good times, then expect to silence all reactions when things aren't going so well.
The simple fact that fans have an emotional response to this franchise is a luxury not afforded to every NBA team. There are direct monetary benefits from those responses and responsibilities that D'Antoni holds as a result of that money coming in, as NBC Sports' Dan Feldman noted:
The Lakers bring in massive sums of money—money that pays D’Antoni’s salary—because they have fans. Those fans buy tickets and merchandise. They view advertisements that bring money to the Lakers directly from in-arena advertisers and indirectly through TV and radio deals.
That money does not give fans an absolute right to say and do whatever they want. But getting frustrated with a struggling team? That’s well within their rights, and they don’t deserve a coach—whose salary they’re paying—to tell them otherwise.
D’Antoni should apologize. Today.
This wasn't just an off-the-cuff mistake from D'Antoni. He took potshots at the fans throughout his postgame interview.
"We got a nice homestand coming up, and if anybody hangs their head, then they don't need to be on our bandwagon," the coach said, via Bresnahan.
It's possible that D'Antoni's brief history with the franchise isn't helping things. He's been called to the carpet—fairly or otherwise—for everything from Pau Gasol's struggles and Kobe Bryant's torn Achilles to Dwight Howard's offseason departure.
Did D'Antoni go to far with these comments?
Maybe this is his misguided attempt to stay out in front of this fire.
But if this comes down to D'Antoni versus the fans, it is not going to end well for the coach.
He has just one more season remaining on his current contract. It's unclear what, if any, influence he'll have on this upcoming—and tremendously vital—offseason. It's hard to imagine him drumming up much support in the win column; he needs to embrace these fans, not chastise them.
Championship contention is an expectation in L.A., not a goal. That's obviously out of the cards, but he should be doing what he can to sell this underdog image. The reclamation projects on this roster (Nick Young, Xavier Henry, Jordan Hill, Jordan Farmar and Wesley Johnson) practically write that story for D'Antoni.
But it's a tale that inevitably involves pitfalls, stumbles that send any relevant franchise on some uncomfortable soul searches. There's a disappointment that has to happen before the feel-good ending. You'd think a Hollywood-based coach would understand that process.
D'Antoni's drawn some undeserved heat before, but he's burning himself with these words, as noted by Daniel Buerge of Slam magazine:
You can’t blame D’Antoni considering what he’s been given to work with on this team, but can’t turn against home fans. It’s certain doom.— Daniel Buerge (@danielbuergeLA) December 24, 2013
Nothing good can come out of these comments. The next time alienating a fanbase is a smart play will be the first.
D'Antoni's been around the game long enough to know better. So, too, have these fans.
They won't take these unprovoked attacks lying down. They'll respond with emotion, intensity and passion. That's what fans do.
If D'Antoni can't deal with the disappointment, how will he ever handle the hostility that awaits him? It's hostility that he created, and hostility he'll now have to work hard to avoid.