The noun “insecurity” can be defined as the state of uncertainty or anxiety about oneself, a lack of confidence. It also can be defined as playing for Mike D’Antoni. In a turbulent season in which the Los Angeles Lakers have endured the national media criticism, coaching changes and injuries to their best players, one thing has been a constant: the revolving door that has been their rotation. D’Antoni is the main culprit of the Purple & Gold’s huge inconsistency with their personnel usage, as it looks like the more the current head coach tries to turn the ship around, the quicker he changes his mind about how to manage the Lakers’ roster.
This is what Matt Barnes described as a “bad situation” a few weeks ago. “Confidence” plays a huge part in the sport of basketball and it does not help at all if a player doesn’t have an idea of how many minutes they will get when he hits the court, or how many opportunities he will receive until the coach sees enough, or if there’s even a chance he will be suddenly stripped out of the rotation completely. And if your name is not Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard or Steve Nash, you are likely on that distressing situation while representing the Purple & Gold.
A volatile rotation does not make players better by keeping them on the edge. It weakens their confidence and worsens their performance by making them think too much instead of just playing naturally. It forces a player to negatively worry about every shot, every pass, every defensive effort instead of just following his basketball instincts and have fun while performing at a high level. It hurts the sense of trust between a coach and a player that will eventually lead to the latter not being able to completely buy into the system, into what’s being teached and preached day in and day out.
Pau Gasol is the latest victim. Even though the Spaniard has recovered from the concussion that forced him to miss five contests, he initiated last Monday’s game against the Bulls on the bench, in a move that is said to be “set in stone”, in the words of coach D’Antoni himself. So even if a 4-time All-Star that has already won two NBA championships with the Lakers doesn’t know what to expect from his head coach, other players must feel like walking into a room blindfolded when trying to predict their respective upcoming playing time. As we’re about to see, almost every name in LAL’s roster was forced into some kind of “rotation whirlwind” already in a season that has just reached its midway point.
Metta World Peace was also demoted to the bench in December. Darius Morris has been swinging in and out of the starting five for as long as D’Antoni has been in L.A., and was granted with just 4.3 minutes per game in the past three contests, despite having streaks of 10 and 5 straight games as a starter in different moments of the season. Devin Ebanks, after getting major playing time during a 3-game stretch in mid December, went back to his routine of seldom minutes and has only seen the court twice in the past 15 contests. Jordan Hill, who has been a constant presence on the floor since emerging late last season, saw himself as the odd man out during a 4-game streak in December, then being able to fight his way back into the rotation before being declared “out for season” with a torn labrum.
But no players represent the best how lost D’Antoni is with his roster than Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks. Both signed with the Lakers in the past off-season to be the team’s main source of points off the bench for what the world thought it would be a strong title contender. And, justifiably so, Jamison and Meeks have proved that they can indeed provide valuable scoring ability as backups, but that has not translated into their head coach’s trust to use them consistently. Jamison had his best moment of the season during a 8-game stretch between November 23rd and December 7th when the 14-year veteran averaged nearly 29 minutes and 15 points per game, including a season-high 33 points against Denver. Then, surprisingly, Jamison started a streak of six “DNPs” (“Did Not Play, due to coach’s decision), beginning at December 18th. Only since the second week of January that Antawn was able to receive consistent playing time again, but a lot of it was due to injuries to other centers and forwards like Howard, Gasol and Hill.
Jodie Meeks seemed to be one of D’Antoni’s favorites players off the bench, as he was constantly used by the head coach due to his quick shooting ability from beyond the arc. During the month of December, Meeks averaged nearly 26.5 minutes and 11 points per game, including a 24-point performance against the Wizards and 39:03 minutes played versus the Bobcats, both season-highs. On his last two games with over 20 minutes of playing time (January 4th vs. the Clippers and 8th vs. the Rockets), Meeks averaged solids 13 points off the bench. But since his 12-point, 32-minute performance against Houston, Jodie never saw more than 15 minutes on the court, accumulating two “DNPs” and three cameos (3 MPG) on his last five games.
It’s tough to play for the Lakers right now, not knowing for how long your minutes will last before they get shattered by the head coach, often with not enough reason behind it. It’s also a hard time to be a Laker Fan, being forced to watch a team perform with nothing close to an identity on the court and a sense of knowing what they are doing as a unit. But is it even possible to reach a “team identity” with such inconsistency on how the personnel is handled? Is it possible to stablish a certain way of performing as a player, defensively or offensively, if the faces around you keep changing by the minute, as it not only hurts the squad’s chemistry but also puts a huge doubt in your mind of “when is it going to be my time to be benched”?
One thing is for certain: it is not possible, in a team sport like basketball, to perform at a high level without building an identity and playing without chemistry. As of now, the Lakers are just a bunch of talented players who happen to wear the same uniform. “Chemistry” and “Identity” will not visit the Staples Center if “Consistency” is not placed upon the team’s rotation first.
Mike D’Antoni is clueless. He is like a kid pushing all the buttons at the same time on a videogame controller hoping anything good comes out of it. It is time for the Lakers head coach to pick a path and walk through it until the end, by defining his rotation and creating a sense of stability inside his players’ minds. D’Antoni has been forcing his men to come up with too many questions for themselves. “For how long am I going to play? What’s my role on this team? When is it going to be my turn to be the odd man out?… Why am I the odd man out?”. That has to stop as soon as possible if the Lakers still plan to make the playoffs and eventually dream about the finals, series by series.
Basketball is a game of confidence and mentality. When a coach acts like Mike D’Antoni has been acting, not making himself clear of how he’s going to use the tools to make the machine work, the players give out. The gears start to go missing. As of now, the engine is clearly not functioning.
The players have mentally broken.
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2012-2013 Los Angeles Lakers.