Los Angeles Lakers

Los Angeles Lakers' Biggest Issue Is Flawed Roster, Not Mike D'Antoni

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - DECEMBER 27:  Mike D'Antoni, Head Coach of the Los Angeles Lakers watches during play against the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena on December 27, 2013 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistDecember 30, 2013

Mike D'Antoni's inability to travel under-the-radar was inevitable.

Coaches don't fly undetected when they're guiding the Los Angeles Lakers and after five straight losses, D'Antoni's seat my be getting hotter, per Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding:

Not only was Los Angeles' blunder against the Philadelphia 76ers its fifth consecutive loss, it was the team's second straight versus an NBA bottom-feeder. Two nights previously, the Lakers fell to the Utah Jazz.

Five games under .500 and falling out the Western Conference's playoff picture fast, fingers will start gesturing in D'Antoni's direction, if they haven't already. He will be blamed for Los Angeles' transgressions. For the mounting losses.  

Magic Mike will be held responsible for a quandary approaching catastrophe that is out of his control.

 

What's In A Healthy Roster?

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 22: Kobe Bryant #24, Pau Gasol #16, and Steve Nash #10 of the Los Angeles Lakers sit in the training room before facing the Utah Jazz at Staples Center on October 22, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

The Lakers don't know, because they aren't healthy. Haven't been for quite some time.

When judging coaches, available personnel must be taken into account. Yes, the Lakers dropped two in a row to the tanking Jazz and Sixers. Under normal circumstances that's embarrassing, punishable by a closed-door meeting where the general manager and owner throw holiday jeers in your direction.

But there's nothing normal about the Lakers.

Against the Jazz and Sixers, they were without Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Steve Blake and Steve Nash, three of whom (Nash, Kobe and Blake) have missed serious time this season. Gasol himself is battling an upper respiratory infection, further burdening his already loaded 33-year-old shoulders.

Then there's Xavier Henry, who suffered a strained right knee against Philly, according to the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan.

"Just caught in a weird position," Henry said. "It feels weird. ... It just felt a little loose."

Well, that doesn't sound good. Should we blame Magic Mike for Henry's injury? And Kobe's? Much like people did the first time around?

Let's be real. Henry is having the most productive season of his career under D'Antoni and this time, the afflicted's misfortune cannot be blamed on minutes, coaching or Magic Mike's mustache. 

D'Antoni is coaching a battered and bruised roster, devoid of healthy stars or able-bodied players in general. Coaches cannot will durability or youth into their roster. Practicing some voodoo mumbo jumbo won't suddenly strengthen the infirm.

All D'Antoni can do is guide the healthy bodies he has and thus far, he hasn't been given many of those to work with.

 

Now About Those Healthy Bodies...

Nov 29, 2013; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Wesley Johnson (11) and small forward Nick Young (0) celebrate during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Lakers won 106-102. Mandatory Credit
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of those scant healthy bodies, who are they?

No, seriously, who are they? I've never heard of them.

Point overstated. Point made.

This isn't a healthy version of last year's star-studded Lakers D'Antoni directed. The roster is flawed by design, pieced together with misfits on a beggar's dime. 

Mitch Kupchak and friends didn't create this team in the image of contention. Or God. They assembled a collective stopgap that could hopefully make the playoffs, but above all wouldn't compromise their impending financial flexibility.

No doubt these players were vetted and vouched by D'Antoni himself, but look at them. Really look at them.

In their loss to the Sixers, the Lakers' starting five consisted of Jordan Farmar, Wesley Johnson, Jodie Meeks, Shawne Williams and Jordan Hill. Those players will earn a combined $7,702,879 this season, according to ShampSports.com.

When's the last time Los Angeles fielded a starting five that comprised three players (Williams, Johnson and Farmar) earning under $1 million? Or four players (Meeks) bringing home under $2 million?

I'm killing you with the rhetorical questions, because Los Angeles is that kind of situation right now. The talent D'Antoni has isn't marque talent, leaving any and all calls for his job premature.

In fact, look at the starting lineups for the Lakers-Sixers bout:

Lakers vs. Sixers
TeamPGSGSFPFC
LakersJ. FarmarJ. MeeksW. JohnsonS. WilliamsJ. Hill
SixersM. Carter-WilliamsE. TurnerH. ThompsonT. YoungS. Hawes
Via ESPN.com.

There isn't much of a debate here. One contingent includes rookie sensation Michael Carter-Williams and three should-be Most Improved Player candidates in Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young; the other doesn't. 

The Lakers have one player (Swaggy P) averaging over 15 points per game. Their most recent starting lineup contained one player (Meeks) averaging in double figures. Their top three assist leaders are Kobe, Nash and Blake, all of whom are injured. That's left Farmar, Henry, Swaggy P and Gasol as their playmaking lifelines.

And whenever "Swaggy P," "playmaking" and "lifelines" are strung together in the same sentence, a team's problems extend well beyond coaching.

 

Identity Without Character

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - DECEMBER 27:  Mike D'Antoni, Head Coach of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts to a call during play against the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena on December 27, 2013 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and
Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

Do the Lakers have an identity? They do and they don't.

They rank 22nd in offensive efficiency and 20th in defensive efficiency, undefined marks if we ever saw them. But that's not for want of a system.

The Lakers are also tied for third in pace, using 96.9 possessions per 48 minutes, proof they're both running and gunning.

They're just not running and gunning and making.

Despite hitting 37.1 percent of their long balls (11th), the Lakers are converting 43.8 percent of their total shots (22nd). You can't win if you don't make shots.

Their defense is a disaster, but that's indicative of a D'Antoni-coached team. The Lakers knew what they were getting when they hired him. Plus, Los Angeles ranked 20th in defensive efficiency last year. That was with Metta World Peace and Dwight Howard, mind you. Those two are long gone now.

Doesn't help that they've been forced to field 16 different starting lineups through 31 games, either. You can't establish chemistry under those circumstances.

You can't forge an identity when the players you're relying on don't have identities themselves.

 

Don't Blame The Coach

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 16:  Mike D'Antoni of the Los Angeles Lakers yells to his team against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on December 16, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or us
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

There are few things to be proud of in Los Angeles—if you're a Lakers fan. But surprisingly enough, the coach is one of them.

Bemoan his decision to call out Lakers fans if you must, but first try looking at it differently.

D'Antoni's so-called temper tantrum was basically him sticking up for his players. How are you going to lambaste that kind of loyalty?

If your panties are still in a bunch, Magic Mike also apologized and admitted he was wrong. So let's move on.

Instead of harping on his flaws, remember the Lakers are an imperfect team decimated by injuries. Remember D'Antoni has coached a group of largely no-names to a better record than expensive disasters like the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets, despite having even less talent at his disposal.

Remember that almost halfway through the season, the reeling Lakers are only 4.5 games off the Western Conference's final playoff spot.

"There's no secret formula or sauce,"  D'Antoni said, via Bresnahan. "We've got to get some guys healthy and try to stay fairly close and hope Blake comes back and Pau comes back and Kobe comes back and try to do something. The biggest thing is keeping our guys' heads up and going."

There is no secret or special sauce. The NBA isn't McDonalds, and the Lakers aren't a fairy-tale roster. They're inexact, injury-plagued enough to inhabit rock bottom, but treading effectively enough to keep their heads above water.

Rarely, if ever, is that considered good in Los Angeles, and that remains true. But right now, it's good enough.

 

*All stats used courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted. 

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