5 Reasons Why Mike D'Antoni Deserves to Stay as LA Lakers Head Coach

Ben Leibowitz@BenLeboCorrespondent IIIMarch 5, 2014

5 Reasons Why Mike D'Antoni Deserves to Stay as LA Lakers Head Coach

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    Mike D’Antoni has earned the right to ride out his contract with the Los Angeles Lakers and remain head coach through the 2014-15 season.

    That is not a popular opinion.

    If I had a nickel for every comment I've seen stating that D’Antoni should be fired immediately, I wouldn’t be able to find a Coinstar machine capable of handling the sheer amount of change.

    With that said, D’Antoni deserves to keep his job. He’s been stuck between a rock and a hard place in 2013-14, as injuries have continue to stack up against a roster that likely wouldn’t have been a playoff shoe-in even if health wasn’t a factor.

    Kobe Bryant has played just six games and may have to shut it down for the remainder of the season to avoid another setback. Steve Nash has been in a boxing match with Father Time, and the two-time MVP continues to get knocked down.

    In spite of it all, D’Antoni has role players performing at an extremely high level and has handled the intense media scrutiny admirably well.

    Consistent losses and chants of “We Want Phil” from the fans would rattle just about anyone, but the veteran coach has handled an unenviable position.

5. Injuries

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    This is the most obvious reason why the Lakers’ losses have piled up and why Mike D'Antoni doesn't deserve to lose his job.

    If you name a player on the roster, chances are he’s missed at least a handful of games due to some type of ailment.

    Bryant, Nash, Pau Gasol, Nick Young, Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar and Jodie Meeks have all missed time for Lakerland this year, which is downright ridiculous.

    As a result of the injuries, D’Antoni has been forced to mix and match lineups—which includes an ever-changing starting five.

    There’s no way to know what D’Antoni could have done with this team at full strength, because the roster has never been at that point.

    Instead, guys like Kendall Marshall, Manny Harris and rookie Ryan Kelly have been forced into action as marquee role players.

    There isn’t a coach on Earth who would be able to keep this roster competitive in the loaded Western Conference. Phil Jackson is a phenomenal coach—arguably the best who has ever patrolled the sidelines—but he wouldn’t have this injury-riddled squad competing for a playoff spot.

    The front office has yet to put forth a healthy product under D’Antoni’s tutelage. He can’t adequately be judged until that changes.

4. Kendall Marshall's Emergence

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    The Phoenix Suns drafted Kendall Marshall 13th overall in the 2012 draft. He showed off some flashy passes during his rookie year, but shooting percentages of 37.1 percent from the field and 31.5 percent from long range left a lot to be desired.

    The North Carolina product was then packaged in the trade that sent Polish center Marcin Gortat to the Washington Wizards. Although the Wiz had big question marks at the backup point guard spot—with Garrett Temple and the unproven Eric Maynor—they decided to waive the 22-year-old point guard.

    No team scooped him up until the Lakers, who were decimated by injuries and needed a new body to fill the void.

    Since that pickup, Marshall has made Washington look downright silly for releasing him. D’Antoni’s system has extracted an impressive level of play from the youngster, as he’s averaging 9.1 points, 9.4 assists, 3.1 rebounds and shooting 44.8 percent from beyond the arc.

    Mike D took Nash from great to elite in Phoenix and made the unknown Jeremy Lin a sensation in New York.

    Marshall may never develop into an All-Star-caliber player, but he’s become a viable starter for a team in desperate need of a healthy point guard. Give credit to D’Antoni.

3. Getting the Most from Role Players

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    The silver lining for the Lakers during an abysmal season has been the stellar play from a variety of role players.

    Steve Blake, for example, was averaging a career-high 7.6 assists per game before getting traded to the Golden State Warriors at the NBA trade deadline.

    Additionally, Jordan Hill, Jodie Meeks, Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson, Kendall Marshall and even the new acquisitions—Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks—are notching career-best scoring numbers under D’Antoni.

    That’s partly due to increased opportunity, but his free-flowing offensive style has ensured that shooters aren’t afraid to let the ball fly when they get a good look. Miss or make, their coach will embrace their decision if shots come within the flow of the offense.

    Fans criticize D’Antoni’s inability to promote defense—which is undoubtedly a fair point of view. Nevertheless, this team as constructed isn’t built to make a defensive impact. At least the role players—who did next to nothing in different situations—are playing well and gaining confidence.

2. Handling Players/Media

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    Mike D’Antoni has managed to maintain a level of professionalism during an abysmal season. 

    In fact, he’s even had a sense of humor about the whole ordeal.

    D’Antoni praised Nick Young’s “swag” in an interview earlier this year (see embedded video).

    Instead of condemning “Swaggy P” for a quirky attitude that could be misconstrued as a lack of professionalism, Mike D appreciates the energy his shooting guard brings to team practices.

    In addition, 33-year-old point guard Steve Blake said after getting traded to the Warriors, “I’ve loved playing for Coach D’Antoni,” per ESPN's Dave McMenamin.

    The Italian coach has handled the bright lights of L.A. extremely well given the circumstances. However, not everyone on the roster has made it easy for him.

    It’s no secret that veteran big man Pau Gasol has had his differences with Coach D’Antoni during his stint in L.A.

    The Spaniard was openly critical of his role in the Lakers offense, saying in December, “When I’m not getting the ball where I want to, where I’m most effective, where I can bang guys and utilize my skill, that affects my aggressiveness and overall intensity,” per the Los Angeles Times’ Mike Bresnahan.

    His coach responded by saying, “Everybody, to a man, we’ve just got to play harder and worry about things less.”

    Gasol turned his fortunes around in January by averaging 20.8 points, 11.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.7 blocks while shooting 51 percent from the floor. He genuinely looked like an All-Star after persistent struggles, but a groin injury in February set him back.

    In spite of the 33-year-old's All-Star-caliber play, the Lakers haven’t been able to overcome an overall lack of talent. That prompted the 7-footer to call out his coach again by saying the team lacks discipline, according to McMenamin via Twitter.

    D’Antoni didn’t appreciate Gasol’s words, saying, “It’s very easy just to come over and talk about your frustrations,” per McMenamin. He added that the veteran big man should “keep it in-house.”

    Fans have already seen that Gasol can succeed in this system from his torrid streak in January, so his critical stance has started to ring somewhat hollow.

    D'Antoni has seen some bumps in the road when dealing with players and the media, but his overall persona has simply gotten a bad rap.

1. Jerry Buss' Decision?

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    According to a Q&A with USA Today's Sam Amick, Phil Jackson believes the decision to hire D'Antoni was made by legendary Lakers owner Jerry Buss.

    "I think the ultimate (decision) kind of rested with Dr. Buss and he made the decision in the hospital the day after. I haven't chosen to bite on that. I've just let that go. I'm real comfortable with it. I don't have any trouble," Jackson said.

    The decision to hire D'Antoni over Jackson was met with intense scrutiny, but there was never a guarantee that the "Zen Master" intended to come out of retirement. He merely "expected to have the opportunity to either accept or reject the position," per the Los Angeles Times' Eric Pincus.

    If Jackson is "real comfortable" with the decision that was made, shouldn't that carry some weight?

    Buss is arguably the greatest owner in the history of sports. He quite literally built the Lakers brand into what it is today, and, according to Jackson, he handpicked the offensive guru to lead a loaded squad that included Nash, Bryant, Gasol and Dwight Howard.

    Has that experiment worked out? In terms of winning and winning in the playoffs, the answer is no.

    However, injuries have played a gigantic role in that equation—and so has D12's decision to leave L.A. for the Houston Rockets. The 2012-13 squad couldn't avoid the injury bug, and that same narrative has played out in D'Antoni's second year.

    If management can rebuild the roster by putting complementary pieces together, there's reason to believe D'Antoni can succeed as head coach of the Lakers.

    He's not a defensive-minded coach, but if the personnel can cover his weaknesses, then his strengths will shine through that much more.

    Buss clearly had a vision for the Lakers when he made the coaching hire. Now it's up to general manager Mitch Kupchak and Co. to build a winning product through the draft and free agency. In that regard, finding another new coach isn't a necessity.