D'Antoni resigned from his position as head coach on Wednesday, April 30, per an official team release:
It's only right to start by mentioning D'Antoni never got a fair shake in Los Angeles. He took the job under strange circumstances and was at a disadvantage from the jump simply because he wasn't Phil Jackson.
Injuries blew apart this star-studded roster, with Steve Nash's broken leg striking a devastating blow to any hopes of running the kind of effective offense he'd orchestrated in Phoenix. Then, the feud between Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard poisoned the locker room.
And that was just the first year.
This past season, Bryant predictably went down again, and the rest of the roster lacked the talent to play respectable ball. It didn't help that D'Antoni essentially gave up on the concept of defense, but there wasn't a coach on the planet who could have led this year's Lakers to the playoffs.
Maybe that's why general manager Mitch Kupchak's parting words were so amicable.
"Given the circumstances, I don’t know that anybody could have done a better job than Mike did," Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said.— Ken Berger (@KBergCBS) May 1, 2014
For all that good will, Lakers fans despised D'Antoni. He was their punching bag, a mustachioed villain who was ruining a proud franchise.
Even former legends couldn't contain their joy at D'Antoni's exit:
Happy days are here again! Mike D'Antoni resigns as the Lakers coach. I couldn't be happier!— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) May 1, 2014
No matter whether D'Antoni's pariah status among Lakers fans was fair, he simply wasn't going to be a part of the organization going forward.
He was set to become a lame duck, entering the final guaranteed year of his contract in 2014-15 and facing the prospect of coaching with even less authority than he'd had the past two seasons.
It turns out that was a sticking point for D'Antoni, and it was apparently the issue that ultimately prompted his resignation.
Mike D'Antoni wanted his option for the Lakers exercised for the 2015-16. The Lakers have refused to budge which led to D'Antoni resigning.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) May 1, 2014
Of course the Lakers wouldn't pick up that option. They watched the past two seasons unfold and knew the damage was irreparable.
Vets like Bryant and Pau Gasol had a contentious relationship with D'Antoni, and it had become clear that Nash would never be healthy enough to have a real voice on the team. His chance to meaningfully connect with any of those players had passed.
Source close to Kobe Bryant on his reaction to Mike D'Antoni resigning: "There wasn't much of a reaction."— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) May 1, 2014
And with a young roster of supporting players, many of whom took their cues from Bryant, there was no way for D'Antoni to command respect from his troops.
Taking a broader view, potential free agents would have been hesitant to sign on with a franchise committed to keeping such a major part of two lost years at the helm. And Carmelo Anthony likely wouldn't have even considered talking to the Lakers this summer if D'Antoni was still the coach.
'Melo had seen enough of D'Antoni in New York to know that marriage couldn't be reconciled.
We don't know for sure if D'Antoni's "resignation" was actually a mutual decision between him and the Lakers or a courtesy the organization allowed instead of officially firing him. But he had to go.
L.A.'s future depended on the options his exit created.
Step One Complete
For the Lakers, a full reconstruction begins now—at least to the extent it can.
Bryant still makes too much money, and there's still some justifiable concern over the ownership's fitness to manage a marquee organization.
But the Lakers will have a high pick in this year's draft and will get to install a coach who'll theoretically be part of a new franchise cornerstone's development. Instead of a 62-year-old coach whose system hasn't worked in years, L.A. can seek out somebody with fresh ideas and a better track record of developing young talent.
The Lakers will also have plenty of cap space, especially if they renounce Gasol's rights and let him walk. Then again, maybe Gasol will be more open to re-signing at a discount now that D'Antoni is out of the picture.
Basically, the Lakers can take the pulse of the league, find a guy they figure will attract (or retain) the most talent and then pay him a mint.
Maybe they'll make a push for Steve Kerr, whose family lives in California. Kerr is rumored to be joining the New York Knicks (per Marc Stein of ESPN.com) under Phil Jackson, but a high-profile gig with more cap flexibility and better weather could certainly tempt him to consider other options.
Phil better lock up Steve Kerr but quick.— netw3rk (@netw3rk) May 1, 2014
Perhaps the Lakers will pursue other soon-to-be available candidates. I hear things are a little dicey for Mark Jackson in Golden State.
Paging Mark Jackson RT @ramonashelburne: Mike D'Antoni has resigned as Lakers coach, source tells ESPN— Marcus Thompson (@ThompsonScribe) May 1, 2014
And what if L.A. wants to go outside the box and bring some international flavor to its bench?
A candidate Lakers management and Kobe Bryant share a fondness: Euro legend Ettore Messina. He impressed as assistant under Mike Brown.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) May 1, 2014
If the inevitable legal battle over the sale of Donald Sterling's Los Angeles Clippers makes things too difficult for Doc Rivers, perhaps he'll find a way out of his deal...only to sign on with the Lakers.
The point is, there are a boatload of options now available to the Lakers—both in terms of players and coaches. None of those options would have existed with D'Antoni in charge.
Endings are Beginnings
Ultimately, the end of D'Antoni signals a new beginning for the Lakers. A fresh start was as necessary as it was easy to see coming. D'Antoni can cite broken-down extension talks as the breaking point, but we all know this situation was beyond repair long ago.
Sure, the Lakers could have started construction with D'Antoni in place as a stopgap, but what players would have wanted to suit up for a coach who was essentially a dead man walking? And what if next offseason's coaching market isn't as ripe with candidates as this one's?
D'Antoni just didn't have a place with the Lakers, and the time to move on was right. Now that the guy who represented an embarrassing past is gone, L.A. can begin to build its future.