LA Lakers Must Cut Ties with Mike D'Antoni Sooner Rather Than Later

Howard Ruben@howardrubenContributor IMarch 16, 2014

Kobe Bryant wants another head coach next season.
Kobe Bryant wants another head coach next season.Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

What are the Los Angeles Lakers accomplishing by holding on to lame-duck coach Mike D'Antoni?

Is executive vice president of player personnel Jim Buss so frozen in his own indecisiveness that he's afraid to pull the plug on what certainly feels like a fait accompli? Buss and the Lakers are more backed up than a Los Angeles sewer system after a major downpour.

The Lakers not only were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs with Friday night's loss at San Antonio, but now also suffer the indignity of seeing Phil Jackson about to take over as president of the New York Knicks (via ESPN.com).

Take that, Laker fans!

With just 16 games left in a miserable season filled with massive injuries and a major leadership void, the Lakers stand at 22-44. Their record-breaking 48-point loss at home to the rival Los Angeles Clippers would have prompted many teams to make a coaching change. 

Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak met with D'Antoni following that game.  And nothing happened, the team deciding to stand pat with their coach.  From Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com:

The historically bad loss to the Clippers on Thursday caused Kupchak to check in with D'Antoni and the rest of Lakers management to discuss whether there was anything that could be done to get the team back on track, but the first inclination was not to make a coaching change, sources said.

Nothing came of the team's worst loss in franchise history. Nor was anything done despite the fact that the Lakers gave up 125 points to New Orleans, 134 to Denver and 131 to Oklahoma City, all losses, in the past 10 days.  The Lakers "held" the Spurs to 119 points, but lost the game by 34.

It's obvious this coach has lost his team, that the Lakers are a mere collection of soon-to-be free agents looking to pad their stats and wallets. Forget team loyalty.

Even D'Antoni's favorite son, Steve Nash, told Grantland.com that he wants to come back to the Lakers next season not because he believes he can help this team win a championship, but because he wants to collect the $9.7 million owed him on the final year of his contract.

D'Antonio himself is in the second year of a three-year, $12 million deal. One strain of thought seems to be that he will be allowed to coach next year. Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times feels the Lakers should just allow D'Antoni to suffer through another mediocre campaign in while management looks to 2015 as the time to really go after top free agents.

The unfortunate truth is that the Lakers are probably locked into at least one more awful season and might as well drag D’Antoni along for the ride. With LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony looking like increasingly unrealistic options, the Lakers will probably preserve their maximum salary slot for the summer of 2015, when Kevin Love becomes available.

Are the Lakers just supposed to roll over for another season? What's happened to this once-proud franchise that currently finds itself playing at a .333 clip and trailing the Clippers, their cross-hall rivals, by 24.5 games in the standings?

D'Antoni's message to the media (via Serena Winters of Lakers Nation) has been consistent in its denial of responsibility for the team's often lackadaisical approach to defense. 

The reason to sever ties with D'Antoni now has to do with restoring the team's winning culture and pride. Despite his penchant for an entertaining, up-tempo offense where players are encouraged to shoot quickly from anywhere, D'Antoni will never embrace what it means to coach one of the most celebrated teams in NBA history.

With D'Antoni's road map resembles a shattered bathroom mirror, why doesn't Jim Buss start the inevitable rebuilding process now? What is he waiting for?

Kobe Bryant weighed in this week after it was announced he would not be suiting up again this season. Sean Deveney of Sporting News wrote that Bryant, according to sources who spoke to Deveney, has “no interest in playing for D’Antoni next season, and wants a new coach in place for the 2014-15 season."

It's hard to imagine Bryant walking away from the $48 million contract he just signed, but shouldn't his comments be enough for management to finally throw up their hands and make a change? 

Speaking with reporters last week after learning he would not suit up again this year, Bryant said (via Dave McMenamin ESPN.com) that management must reevaluate its current state from top to bottom. And he clearly placed the ball in the lap of both Buss and Kupchak.

I think we have to start at the top in terms of the culture of our team. What kind of culture do we want to have? What kind of system do we want to have? How do we want to play? It starts there and from there, you can start building out your team accordingly...You got to start with Jim. You got to start with Jim and Jeanie and how that relationship plays out. It starts there and having a clear direction and clear authority. And then it goes down to the coaching staff and what Mike (D'Antoni) is going to do, what they're going to do with Mike and it goes from there. It's got to start at the top."

Ok, Jim Buss. You're in charge. Decisions start and end with you. So far, Lakers fans have watched Dwight Howard come and go. They've seen Jerry West bolt L.A. for Oakland and the Golden State Warriors. And, now Phil Jackson is headed to New York.

But D'Antoni remains. The team's two biggest stars (Bryant and Pau Gasol) have made it clear they would rather play for a different coach with a different mindset.  The probability of Gasol returning for another season at Staples Center increases dramatically if D'Antoni is let go.

It's time to clean house, starting with the head coach.  A little spring cleaning may go a long way towards rebuilding a broken franchise.


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