The Los Angeles Lakers might just be better off retaining Mike D’Antoni at least for another season. His contract ends in 2014-15, but he has a club option for 2015-16 per Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com.
The Lake Show has looked abysmal under the watch of D’Antoni, but in the essence of fairness, it’s worth pointing out that he has not had his full complement of players.
Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant have appeared in 16 games combined this season due to injury. That’s it.
What’s more, the moment it appeared as though the ship was sinking without any chance of salvaging the wreckage, Pau Gasol bailed on his teammates. The health issues have essentially been too difficult to overcome, and the Lakers have struggled as a result.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak understands that injuries and not coaching are to blame for L.A.’s shortcomings, per Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:
We're happy with Mike. You can look back six weeks ago and say it's exciting and we're playing great. It's hard to ignore the injuries but it was a fun game to watch when we were playing without Kobe [Bryant] and anticipating his return. In other words, 'Wow, we're playing this well now and Kobe has still yet to return and neither has [Steve] Nash?' So we had high hopes.
Kupchak’s comments suggest that the organization might stand by D’Antoni past this season given the numerous setbacks the team has faced. Also, the team’s new direction might come into play.
No More Chasing 2014 Summer
The Lakers will probably not be looking to reload this offseason.
Granted, that was the initial plan, per ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst: "Several teams' executives have told ESPN.com they believe the Lakers are positioning themselves to make a run at LeBron James in 2014, when the Miami Heat star can choose to become a free agent."
Had the Lakers failed with James, Carmelo Anthony would have been on their radar, according to ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne and Windhorst. With Los Angeles chasing superstars this summer, it made sense for the Lakers to jettison D’Antoni given his inability to resolve conflicts with elite players.
However, the Lakers’ initial focus seemingly changed when they signed Kobe Bryant to a $48.5 million extension.
The move compromised some of L.A.’s cap room (the Lakers will still have $26 million to spend provided they renounce all of their free agents). Bryant’s extension makes it unlikely that the Lakers can acquire a big free agent (max-contract players like Anthony have a starting salary around $20 million) and then surround him with quality role players.
Therefore, the franchise might simply sign players to one-year deals this offseason and enter the 2015 offseason with nearly $36 million in cap space to make a run at some quality players.
Kupchak hinted as much to Mike Trudell in an interview for Lakers.com:
MT: With Bryant locked in for the next two years, there is still space for a max player both this coming summer and the next. But in theory, if you like players you think would be up in 2015 and 2016, would you want to avoid giving a maximum contract this coming summer for a player you aren’t sure you want for five years?
Kupchak: That’s right.
If the Lakers are simply going to remain in neutral next season, getting rid of D’Antoni seems imprudent.
The franchise will still be in transition and won’t be anywhere near title contention. D’Antoni might just be the best coach for a low-expectation team as evidenced by his work this season.
The Man Can Coach
D’Antoni has demonstrated that he can extract the best out of role players who fit his system. His teams play at a fast tempo and D'Antoni encourages players to get shots up via the pick-and-roll. Because he is a proponent of spacing, ball-handlers typically find room to get into the paint or kick passes out to open shooters.
His athletes must simply read the defense and determine whether to pass or shoot. D'Antoni's offense is simple enough that players can easily grasp it and perform at optimal levels.
For instance, Jodie Meeks (13.9), Xavier Henry (12.5), Kendall Marshall (14.6) and Wesley Johnson (11.3) are all posting career-high player efficiency ratings. The coaching staff has instilled confidence in these players and given them the proverbial green light to shoot the ball.
Given that the front office apparently wants to wait at least until the 2015 summer to try to sign a superstar due to an apparent inability to accomplish this in 2014, it entails that the Lakers will start out next season with a cast of players eerily similar to the one Los Angeles has employed this season.
The Lakers will go after players with marginal talent and sign them for a season or two at fairly low-dollar amounts to maintain cap flexibility going forward. The franchise will need someone to coach these “rentals,” and D’Antoni is more than qualified to do so.
The Choice Is Mike D’Antoni
D’Antoni should be the head coach of the Lakers next season.
The Purple and Gold have altered their plans with respect to free agency this offseason by signing Bryant to a mammoth contract extension.
The team will probably not be looking to take on any long-term salaries this summer, which means L.A. will sign some players to short deals in preparation for the free-agent class of 2015.
D’Antoni’s pick-and-roll-oriented system does wonders for guys who fit within its concepts, and it stands to reason that the Lakers will want him to work that magic again next season on a team with a very low ceiling.
The best-case scenario is probably the Western Conference’s final playoff spot in the 2014-15 campaign. D’Antoni should be able to get the most out of his role players coupled with the contributions of Bryant and Steve Nash, provided they are healthy.
Also, the Lakers should have a high lottery pick, which should give them a boost in talent.
In the same breath, if all goes wrong, the Lakers are left with a season that mirrors 2013-14. D’Antoni managed to make the Lakers interesting despite an awful season, and there is no reason to believe he would not be able to reproduce this next year.
Ultimately, the Lakers will probably let him play out his contract (without exercising the club option) and then go into a different direction when the 2015 summer hits. The Lake Show will be looking to making bold moves in free agency, and D'Antoni hinders that.
Salary information comes courtesy of Sham Sports.