As would be expected, the maelstrom of speculation about Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni is swirling—will he stay or will he be sent packing?
Meanwhile, on a parallel track are questions about next season’s roster. As in, will there be one? So far, there are only three fully guaranteed contracts in place—Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre.
Don’t bother yourself with fantasy rotations, however—team management needs to figure out who’s running the ship before they start stocking up on players.
The Lakers could of course, wait until after the upcoming draft and tailor a coach to the result. Executive vice president Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak could forestall the inevitable.
They could even tread water through another lousy season, weathering criticism and fulfilling the final guaranteed season of D’Antoni’s contract.
Given the complete nosedive of a team that is used to elite status, however, that’s not apt to happen. Despite reasonable excuses of rampant injuries decimating this season’s hopes, D’Antoni has simply failed to deliver in Los Angeles.
It’s time to rip the bandage off.
According to Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles, the clock might be winding down on the beleaguered coach. Appearing on SportsCenter, McMenamin said:
Despite reports out there that the Lakers could be leading toward retaining Mike D’Antoni, my sources tell me that is not the case. If anything, they are leaning toward relieving him of his coaching duties at the end of this season and not picking up that final year of his contract that is $4 million guaranteed, and find someone else out there on the market.
D’Antoni, as pure a disciple of small-ball philosophy as there is, has been caught in nowhere land for two seasons now—armed with an amalgamation of players whose talents are not necessarily well suited to each other.
It’s a testimony to the former Coach of the Year’s essentially good nature that his players have managed to coexist, and have even have some fun doing it.
This has, after all, been a season with basketball castoffs jacking up shots at will, a Purple and Gold love affair with Swaggy P and an unlkely experiment that saw Sacre and Ryan Kelly playing in lockstep while Chris Kaman and Jordan Hill watched glumly from the sidelines.
It has been the NBA’s version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. With lots of losses.
And during all this, veteran Lakers with championship titles have looked on with disapproval. Bryant and Pau Gasol have not been fans of their coach’s devotion to positionless basketball or his running green light for shooters to fire at will.
It has been a case of worlds colliding, and when that happens in Lakers Nation, the results can go supernova. It’s surprising, really, that the flames aren’t actually hotter than they are now. Credit D’Antoni for handling the flak as well as he has.
That said, it’s time to make a change. And who are some of the likely candidates?
Lionel Hollins is a name that is often mentioned. Known as a defensive-minded coach, Hollins was out of work this season after a five-year run as head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies, including a franchise-record 56 wins last season and the team’s first Western Conference Finals appearance.
Byron Scott won three rings as a player during the Lakers Showtime era and also mentored Bryant in his rookie season. A former COY with the New Orleans Hornets, Scott’s most recent coaching stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers was something of a debacle.
Never shy with an opinion, ESPN NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy hasn’t coached since 2006-07—the last of his four seasons with the Houston Rockets. There’s no doubting his love for defensive intensity or pick-and-roll basketball.
There has also been talk about college candidates, including a wildfire set off by former NBA journeyman and University of Kentucky standout Rex Chapman, who speculated on Twitter that Kentucky’s John Calipari was a “done deal” for the Lakers.
It was unfortunate timing, as Calipari’s team was hours away from facing UConn for a national title. Kentucky lost, and Lakers spokesman John Black quickly refuted the rumor, per Bill Oram of the Orange County Register.
On the eve of the Final Four, Eric Pincus for The Los Angeles Times suggested Connecticut’s head coach Kevin Ollie for the Lakers job. It’s a smart idea, but now that UConn has won the national title, will Ollie want to leave?
One of the edgier ideas being floated comes from Kevin Ding for Bleacher Report, who endorsed Quin Snyder—a guy who looks like he should be playing the lead in a David Lynch movie.
Snyder’s eclectic basketball resume includes assistant to Mike K at Duke, head coach for the University of Missouri, head coach of the D-League’s Austin Toros and assistant under Mike Brown for the Lakers. Per Ding, Snyder had the players’ ears, long after they tuned Brown out. After a turn under Euro legend Ettore Messina and CSKA Moscow, Snyder returned stateside and is currently an assistant coach with the Atlanta Hawks.
And then there’s the idea of someone straight from the players’ ranks. Derek Fisher, currently with the Oklahoma City Thunder, is expected to retire at season’s end. Fisher won five rings alongside Bryant, but with no coaching experience, he may be better suited to a front-office role.
Or perhaps they’ll simply go for the closest choice and settle on Kurt Rambis, the longtime Lakers workhorse who is currently an assistant coach for the team.
It always seemed as if the decision to hire D’Antoni was a rushed and impetuous one. He was jammed in during a fast-and-furious dragnet after the firing of Mike Brown, five games into the 2012-13 season. D’Antoni’s time with the Lakers will always be inextricably linked to the fact that he was chosen over Phil Jackson.
Per Jill Painter of the Los Angeles Daily News, the current Lakers head coach characterized the comparison thusly: “Obviously he casts a big shadow over anybody who follows him anywhere, it’s not going to be easy.”
And it hasn’t been.
D’Antoni’s initial job was to manage a star-studded roster that went belly-up with conflict and injuries. This season, he was tasked with melding traditional post-driven sensibilities with a host of young lottery busts who were more than happy to fire away with entitled abandon.
Needless to say, there wasn’t much blending—the coach has a style of ball that he prefers and it doesn’t revolve around the low post.
Combined with an unimaginable assortment of injuries, the D’Antoni era has produced the worst Lakers record yet in Los Angeles franchise history. And at 25-53, it’s not yet over.
The Lakers are now back to somewhere less than square one—building a roster from the charred ashes of disaster. And while it’s tempting to speculate on what that roster will look like, there’s other business to deal with first.
They need to resolve the coaching situation so the rebuilding can truly begin.