If Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni really loves his job, he’ll treat Wednesday’s season finale against the San Antonio Spurs like it’s Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. Because it’s likely the last time he’ll be patrolling L.A.’s sidelines.
Why do we know this? Here’s general manager Mitch Kupchak speaking to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday:
"I'm not going to discuss Mike other than to say there is no timetable for any type of decision. So there's really nothing to share.”
Look, Mitch. Can I call you Mitch? Steve, let’s get down to brass tacks. We’ve all heard and seen enough cliché-ridden press pellets to understand the hidden code. Basically, you wasted 26 words on what could’ve been a simple, three-syllable declarative:
Both of which, given the context, essentially mean the same thing: I have a better chance of being elected to the Parliament of India than Mike D'Antoni has of coaching the Lakers next season. You're just not sure when it'll be made official.
As Bresnahan aptly points out, this is in pretty stark contrast to comments made by Kupchak last month to the effect that D’Antoni had done “a great job under the circumstances.”
Now, with the team’s nightmare season nearly finished and a potentially messy rebuilding project ahead, the Lakers need something to convince their antsy fanbase a new leaf will indeed be turned over.
In a fit of prescience, the New York Daily News’ Mitch Lawrence—who covered D’Antoni during his three-and-a-half year stretch at the helm of the New York Knicks—says this brand of PR spin is all part and parcel with L.A.’s plan to let the 62-year-old coach down as gently as possible:
[The Lakers] also are looking to change their style to one that better fits Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, whom they plan on re-signing this summer when he becomes free. One league source said there is sentiment within the Lakers’ executive offices for a “peaceful, mutual parting’’ with D’Antoni, who has one season left on his contract at $4 million. There’s another season beyond that, but it is at the team’s option. ‘They don’t want to fire Mike,’ the source said.
If anyone’s going to catch a hint like this, it’s D’Antoni, who walked away from the Knicks in the middle of the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season amidst rumblings of a feud with Carmelo Anthony, leaving the reins to the now presently embattled Mike Woodson.
If and when D’Antoni is let go, it’ll be interesting to see how quickly he lands another gig—if at all. Considering the weird circumstances that have surrounded his last two tenures, it’s hard to believe he’d be considered overly damaged goods.
With the right personnel and in the right organization, D’Antoni can still be an effective coach—even a good one. It might just be he needs a bit quieter of a setting than the two caustic cauldrons he’s simmered in for the better part of five years.