Mike D’Antoni might be coaching out his final season with the Los Angeles Lakers. The former Phoenix Suns coach has consistently demonstrated he is a one-trick pony headman, and that might very well lead to his demise.
D’Antoni comes to the table with a predetermined system that does not always capitalize on the talent at his disposal. Thus, it’s a little difficult to make the case that the Lakers need to retain his services going forward.
That won’t stop us from trying, though.
Keeping Mike D’Antoni
Mike D’Antoni has been extremely unlucky in his time with the Los Angeles Lakers. Indeed, the team has been decimated by injuries during his tenure with the team and consequently, he has been obligated to make due with role players.
In his first season with the Purple and Gold, D’Antoni lost his starters for a multitude of games. Have at the graphic below outlining the missed games in 2012-13 by the Lakers’ starters (playoffs included):
Despite the fact Los Angeles was occasionally left without bodies, the team still made the postseason under D’Antoni’s watch.
That speaks to his ability to steer his unit through a storm. The former New York Knicks coach has seen his team lose players once more this season due to poor health.
Heading into Christmas, D’Antoni still had not seen his starting backcourt on the floor together. Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash both dealt with injuries that have by and large kept them out of the lineup through roughly the first quarter of the campaign.
Furthermore, Pau Gasol has alternated between suiting up and just rocking a suit on the sidelines because of numerous physical ailments. And yet, D’Antoni has kept the Lakers within range of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
He has done this mostly by extracting career-best performances from some of his role players. Indeed, D’Antoni has given the greenest of lights to players such as Nick Young, Xavier Henry, Jodie Meeks, Wesley Johnson and Jordan Hill.
The end result is that they have played with confidence and produced through the early part of the year. The coaching staff has figured out how to take full advantage of their role players and consequently, the Lakers have maxed out on their talent.
Typically, that’s what franchises expect from their coaches.
Firing Mike D’Antoni
Mike D’Antoni has alienated superstars during his career and in turn, it’s fair to wonder how that impacts the Los Angeles Lakers’ 2014 free-agency plans.
During his time with the New York Knicks, D’Antoni and Carmelo Anthony clashed to the point that Anthony reportedly requested the dismissal of his then-head coach. Marc Berman of the NY Post had the juicy details:
However, Tuesday night, a source said Anthony and D’Antoni spoke in an attempt to reconcile their differences and made headway. On Monday night, Anthony only wanted to remain a Knick if he had assurances D’Antoni wouldn’t be back next season.
D’Antoni eventually resigned, but he might as well have been fired. He lost the team because of his inability to handle confrontation. Chris Broussard of ESPN.com obtained that information from a source within the Knicks’ organization:
Some players believe D'Antoni had the leverage to force Anthony to adjust to his system when he first returned from injury. The Knicks were rolling, showing they could win without Anthony, and their fan base was believing in D'Antoni's system. If D'Antoni had checked Anthony, perhaps even benching him, when he strayed from the offense, the players and fans would have been behind the coach and Anthony would have had no choice but to conform. But D'Antoni, ever the one to avoid confrontation with his players, would not do it, and now it's too late. That's when he lost the locker room for good.
This is pertinent going forward because one could say that former New York coach has not learned from his mistakes.
Within his first few months with the Lakers, he relegated Pau Gasol to the second unit because he could not devise a successful strategy with him in the opening five-man unit.
The Spaniard felt unappreciated and made that known to Ken Berger of CBS Sports:
"I've been on this team, in this city, for six years," Gasol said. "It's very hard to stick around on this team, and I take pride in that. I think I'm a valuable asset and I want my role to be as big as it can be, within the well being of the team. But I don't know if being a player that comes off the bench will be something that I'll be able to accept long term.”
The Gasol debacle did little to shed positive light on D’Antoni and yet, it became a little worse for him.
Once Dwight Howard became a free agent, he reportedly outlined the terms that would prompt him to re-sign with the Lakers. One of them involved the dismissal of the Lakers’ coach.
Given that the front office is expecting to have roughly $26 million in cap room to spend on the open market in the summer, it certainly is not much of a stretch to assume D’Antoni is not a selling point.
Role players might enjoy playing under him, but high-caliber athletes have taken issue with the offensive genius. Let’s be honest, rotation guys are typically easily recruited whereas marquee players need an attractive presentation.
The Lakers’ pitch is less than stellar with D’Antoni on board. His style and personality complicate things more than they help. Thus, Los Angeles is better off giving him the axe and bringing in a coach with pedigree.
Someone that has had success in different stops is not necessarily a prerequisite, but it certainly is a plus. That’s a sign that this person can adjust their schemes and philosophies based on their personnel.
Two names immediately come to mind: Stan and Jeff Van Gundy.
Stan Van Gundy made deep postseason runs with both the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic. The Heat were built around the tag team of Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade. His Magic team on the other hand featured Dwight Howard and multiple shooters.
He is most certainly a prime candidate for the Lakers’ job should it open up. The same is true of his brother.
Jeff Van Gundy coached a tough and physical New York Knicks team that made its way to the NBA Finals despite losing a declining Patrick Ewing to injury. Ewing was past his prime, but he was still an integral part of the team by virtue of his interior defense and low-post game.
The former Knicks coach also led the Houston Rockets to multiple 50-win seasons with the help of Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming. The Rockets never advanced past the first round under his watch, but they still had great regular seasons and postseason showings despite regularly facing injuries.
Put it all together, the reasons for dismissing D’Antoni outweigh the ones suggesting Los Angeles keeps him in place.