According to ESPN.com, Lakers’ General Manager Mitch Kupchak believes head coach Mike D’Antoni is not the problem for this season’s debacle.
Sorry Kupchak, you’re wrong.
After a 12-20 start to his tenure in Los Angeles, it has become quite clear that hiring Mike D’Antoni was an undeniable mistake. The Lakers are currently riding a 4-game losing streak and stand 17-25, good enough for 12th place in the Western Conference.
The Lakers initially fired former head coach Mike Brown just five games into the 2012-13 season, in an attempt to correct the dismal 1-4 start. Interim head coach Bernie Bickerstaff then stepped in and properly led the Lakers to a 4-1 record. In the meantime, the front office conducted a “comprehensive” search for the Lakers’ 24th head coach in franchise history.
According to multiple reports, former Lakers’ head coach, Phil Jackson, was ready to accept the Lakers’ head coaching vacancy. Instead of hiring the 11-time champion, the Lakers decided to hire D’Antoni at midnight the night before Jackson was supposed to accept the offer.
Now, after a .375 winning percentage and 32 games under D’Antoni’s belt, the Lakers are practically back to square one. At 8 games below .500, the Lakers are seemingly back to where they were at the beginning of the season, with Brown as the head coach.
The time has now come for the Buss family to admit their mistake. The front office has invested too much time and money into this team to allow a coach to come in and destroy its potential. For the Lakers to even have a fighting chance at salvaging this season, it is time for D’Antoni to go, immediately.
The main issue this season is not with the personnel, it is instead with the inconsistency and incompetence of the head coaching position. In a season crammed with excuses, the Lakers’ front office must own up to their biggest one.
The following is an in-depth look at why exactly D’Antoni was the wrong coach, why he has failed, and why he will continue to fail this season:
Wrong offensive system:
D’Antoni has never coached a traditional big man, better yet two traditional big men, to any type of success during his coaching career. D’Antoni’s “run and fun” or “7 seconds or less” system calls for an up-tempo style of play, that is best suited when a “stretch 4” is playing the power forward position. This is certainly not the case with which Pau Gasol should be occupying that position.
This up-tempo style also relies on a high volume of three pointers per game, something the Lakers’ roster is obviously not built for. Besides SG Jodie Meeks (who rarely sees the floor now), the Lakers do not have any pure shooters.
As a result, the Lakers’ roster is simply not fit for the type of offensive system D’Antoni has implemented in Los Angeles. D’Antoni has essentially tried to fit a square peg in a round hole with his system.
With two of the most talented post players in the NBA, D’Antoni’s system is actually detrimental to their skill-set. Not only has the system moved Gasol away from his most effective spot on the floor (the block), but it has also neutralized many of Dwight Howard’s back-to-the-basket post-ups.
D’Antoni’s offense blatantly neglects the Lakers’ biggest advantage – size. His system places the ball in Nash’s hands for the majority of the time, but it also relies on the high pick-and-roll too often. Down the stretch of many games this season, the Lakers continuously revert to high pick-and-rolls, even when opposing defenses know they are coming and render them ineffective.
D’Antoni’s stubbornness and reluctance to change has cost the Lakers multiple games down the stretch; their offensive sets become too predictable late in games and the Lakers fail to pound the ball inside with Howard, Gasol and Bryant.
In recent games against Miami and Chicago, this predictability was ever-present late in those games. Nash constantly ran pick-and-rolls to no avail, yet the Lakers continued forcing them. Miami, especially, made the adjustment by trapping the pick-and-rolls, which made the Lakers’ plays ineffective and resulted in more turnovers than baskets.
Also, in the loss to Chicago, Howard only had five total shots the entire game. For the Lakers to be effective going forward, they must feature Howard in the post and get him more shots, especially early in games. Feeding Howard the ball inside early tends to make him play with more energy and activity for the rest of the game.
The right system: Phil Jackson’s triangle offense would have been much better suited for this culmination of talent. The triangle, or triple post offense, is defined by its most important feature of creating a sideline triangle between the center (Howard), who stands at the low post, the forward (Metta World Peace) on the wing, and a guard at the corner (Kobe Bryant). The Lakers’ other guard (Steve Nash) would be at the top of the key ready for three-point kick outs, and the other forward (Gasol) would be on the weak-side high post – together forming a “two-man game”.
Although this system may have taken some time to learn for incoming players, like Howard and Nash, it would have been much more effective in the long run. Sure, Nash’s full potential may not have been reached in the triangle, but the other three All-Stars’ potentials would have been. Howard and Gasol would have flourished in the triangle, much like Bynum and Gasol did at times during the Lakers’ championship runs.
The triple post offense would have also led to better ball movement and more equal opportunities for other players, not just Bryant. In D’Antoni’s system, the ball tends to get “stuck” on one side of the floor too often, which leads to forced shots by Bryant. D’Antoni’s offensive system also takes too long for movement to occur, which often results in desperation shots late in the shot clock.
That’s right, “Antoni” with no “D”. The Lakers this season are fifth worst in opponent points per game at 101.4 points per game. This lack of defense on a consistent basis will not win you a championship in the NBA.
The constant defensive lapses, breakdowns and poor rotations are as much on the players as it is on the coach. D’Antoni seems content on allowing 100+ points per game, when in reality, giving up that many points will win you very few games in this league.
D’Antoni’s pedigree has never been on the defensive end, as is evident by the Lakers’ poor defense this season. If the Lakers want to start winning games this season, that lack of focus on defense has to change and it has to change now. The Lakers are not scoring 120 points per game, as D’Antoni first envisioned, so they must rely on their defense to win games.
The Lakers have good individual defenders on this team, namely Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace who have four Defensive Player of the Year awards between them, but they need a defensive-minded coaching staff to bring everyone together. None of the Lakers are on the same page defensively and it shows by their late and even missed rotations, which lead to easy buckets for the opposition.
These breakdowns defensively and not being on the same page are a clear result of the Lakers not practicing too. It seems that every non-gameday the Lakers have, they are getting the day off from practice, rather than working on defensive rotations or schemes. How do the Lakers expect to get any better on the defensive end if they never work on it together in practice?
It is clear that D’Antoni does not understand how to coach defense, so for the Lakers to be even somewhat decent defensively, D’Antoni must be replaced with someone who can actually coordinate an NBA defense.
When D’Antoni was hired as the Lakers’ head coach, he openly encouraged players like Meeks and Antawn Jamison to shoot when they are open. This was all fine so as they hit their shots consistently, but once Meeks entered a recent shooting slump, he was promptly sat at the end of the bench.
Meeks has been in a shooting slump from three-point range of late, but with his recent benching, it will only amplify things. You simply cannot tell a player to shoot every time he is open, but then bench him just for struggling.
This contradiction has not only caused tension in the locker room, but it has also significantly hurt Meeks’, and other players’, confidence while on the floor. D’Antoni’s inconsistency in managing his personnel has led to players becoming unsure of their decision-making on the floor, which leads to unforced errors and turnovers since they constantly play in fear of being benched for making a mistake.
Wearing down Kobe Bryant:
With the difficulties the Lakers have had on the defensive end this season, D’Antoni has decided to make Bryant guard the opposing team’s best guard on a nightly basis. At 34 years of age, Bryant can still do this in short stretches, but having to chase speedy guards around all night wears him down.
Ever since the change in defensive scheme last week, Bryant has been in a deep shooting slump. The extra exertion on the defensive end has caused Bryant to become short on his jump shots. Bryant has also complained about fatigue in his legs recently, which has resulted in less lift on jumpers.
If D’Antoni continues to put Bryant on quick guards, along with play him 39 minutes per game, Bryant will not make it through this season. The Lakers certainly need Bryant to be a presence on the perimeter on the defensive end, but not to such a degree that it becomes detrimental to his offensive efficiency.
No sense of urgency:
None at all. D’Antoni continues to act like there is a bunch of time to make up this ground in the Western Conference. Unfortunately, there is very little time to turn this season around. At the halfway point of the season, the Lakers are a dismal 17-25, yet D’Antoni continues making quotes like “we’re too good to be playing like this”, “our new season starts tonight”, and “it will come all around, we just need more time”.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, D’Antoni, but there is no time left. Change has to come immediately and if it doesn’t, the Lakers will miss the playoffs and have arguably the most disappointing season in sports history.
Not only does D’Antoni continue to show little sense of urgency for this dwindling season, but he also sorely avoids confrontation with his players. This dislike for confrontation has led and is leading to him losing the entire locker room as players beginning to whine about touches and shot attempts. It certainly seems like he has lost Howard, judging by his recent play.
Take last night’s loss to Chicago, for instance. Howard, who only had five field goal attempts in the game, complained to the media in post-game interviews about his lack of looks inside. Howard also complained about the lack of “inside-out” play that he would like to see from the Lakers offensive attack.
It is fine for players to voice their opinions on the problems with a team, in an attempt to fix those issues, but the underlying problem here is that it seems D’Antoni will avoid confrontation about those issues at all costs. Just as he did in New York, D’Antoni tends to let issues fester inside the locker room until they reach a boiling point, at which it is too late to change.
D’Antoni is not a strong enough coach to command the respect of all fourteen guys in this locker room, with the exception of Nash, whom he has coached in the past. With each additional loss piling up for the Lakers, it looks like D’Antoni is starting to lose his team more and more.
Howard was also rumored to have shown the Chicago game’s stat sheet around to his teammates in the locker room, complaining about his lack of touches and shots. This could develop into a much greater issue, as one of D’Antoni’s main objectives this season was to persuade Dwight Howard into re-signing with the Lakers in the off-season.
D’Antoni’s lack of confrontation and hands-off management style seems to be making Howard disgruntled. Howard excelled under former Orlando Magic’s coach Stan Van Gundy because of Van Gundy’s strong-willed coaching style and firm hold on Howard’s personality. D’Antoni has failed to achieve this in the slightest and it could lead to Howard’s eventual departure in the off-season.
Howard has not been effective at all in D’Antoni’s offense, which is obviously not the best offensive option for this team, and it has led to Howard’s recent frustration both on and off the court. The Lakers also struggle to get him the ball, especially in the fourth quarter, so it is easy to see why he’s unhappy.
The problem with Howard’s inconsistent play may partially be with his volatile attitude and his poor free throw shooting. The problem ultimately resides in D’Antoni, however, both in his system and his unwillingness to confront players like Howard. Like most coaches, D’Antoni seems stubborn and reluctant to change his failing system, even though it is clearly not working.
The players, especially Howard, also need to take responsibility for the way this season has gone, however. They must be accountable for their poor play and Howard must own up to his poor attitude of late, as well as his inconsistent effort.
But, it has become quite evident that D’Antoni is incapable of managing a team full of superstar egos. So, pay attention to this budding saga as the Howard trade talks begin to flare up, with no real end to the Lakers’ struggles in sight.
Benching / neutralizing Pau Gasol:
In Pau Gasol’s eleven years in the league, he has started in 816 out 825 games. Gasol has been one of the most talented low-post players this league has seen in recent years, yet D’Antoni seems inclined to move Gasol to the bench permanently. According to the OC Register’s Kevin Ding, Gasol is out as the Lakers’ starter and Earl Clark will start at the power forward position, for the time being.
Clark is an emerging young player for the Lakers, but he is no Pau Gasol either. Gasol is obviously having a down year, in some part due to injury and in some part due to D’Antoni’s ineffective usage of him, but Gasol’s value to this team is still vital to any success. Unfortunately, D’Antoni will now get his way by starting Clark over Gasol, and get to play “small ball” instead of utilizing the Lakers’ great advantage inside.
Consequently, D’Antoni has now significantly decreased Gasol’s value, both as a member of the Lakers and as a trade asset.
What team in their right mind would take on an aging player, with a massive contract, who has now been made a permanent bench player?
Recently, Gasol has even openly discussed a trade being a possibility now with his demotion to the bench and a reduced role on the Lakers.
It has become obvious over Gasol’s years in Los Angeles, that he has never been positively motivated by trade rumors, criticism or public disrespect. With yet another of his recent rotation changes, D’Antoni has proven that he does not understand that and instead feels Gasol cannot be an effective part of the Lakers’ offense.
This is troublesome because it has significantly hampered Gasol’s confidence, to the point that he almost feels unwanted as a Laker. Gasol will continue to play like a professional, for as long as he’s a Laker, but his future with D’Antoni looks bleak.
It is certainly difficult for any player to fully buy-in to a coach’s philosophies if that player does not feel he is appreciated or needed, for that matter. Although it is still a business, Gasol is in a very unfortunate situation because he does not deserve this type of treatment; especially after all he has done for the franchise.
Giving up on Gasol:
Ever since D’Antoni was hired, it has seemed that he would rather avoid having to deal with integrating Gasol into his offense. D’Antoni now seems content on allowing Gasol to struggle, by moving him to the bench, even though Gasol’s play is one of the main keys to the Lakers’ success this season.
D’Antoni almost seems to have a legitimate disinterest in Gasol’s integration and it has shown in his relationship, or lack thereof, with Gasol. In the game against Chicago, for instance, Gasol was called for a questionable blocking foul on the sidelines late in the fourth quarter.
Instead of sticking up for his player (Gasol) and questioning the referee’s reasoning for the blocking call, D’Antoni instead agreed with the official and simply told Gasol to keep playing. This sequence right here just proves how little D’Antoni respects Gasol as a player.
Gasol is definitely not the root of the Lakers’ problems this season, but he can certainly be part of the solution. The underlying problem with Gasol this season is his utilization by D’Antoni, which does not look like it will change anytime soon.
If the Lakers do in fact trade Gasol, they will obviously not receive an equal return talent-wise. The best the Lakers can get in return, it seems, are pieces or role players, none of which will come close to the talent and ability Gasol brings.
Not on the same page collectively:
Along with D’Antoni’s failure to maximize the Lakers’ potential by placing players in foreign positions, it seems that he is not on the same page with his players. In the post-game interviews after the game against Chicago, D’Antoni placed the blame on the Lakers’ offense, while the majority of the players blamed the defense.
This discord in opinions is certainly a glaring problem, since the head coach places more stock in one set of problems, yet the players place their blame in another set. For any team to have success, especially championship success, all of the players and coaches must be on the same page.
This obvious disconnect circles back to D’Antoni’s inability to lead his team in the right direction as well as his inability to adequately diagnosis and adjust to the Lakers’ problems. This issue of not being on the same page was never a problem for the Lakers under Phil Jackson, and does not seem to be an issue for the Clippers and their success, this season.
The bottom line is that if the Lakers cannot get on the same page as a collective unit, they will have zero chance at reaching the playoffs.
No respect, trust or buy-in by players:
Much like during the debacle under Mike Brown, only a few of the Lakers’ players seem to actually “buy-in” to D’Antoni and his system. Players like Gasol, Howard, World Peace, Jamison, etc. do not seem to give their all, night in and night out. Their inconsistent efforts are simply a byproduct of them not fully investing themselves into D’Antoni’s system.
Not only do most of the Lakers not fully invest in the system, but they also do not seem to trust D’Antoni’s ability to direct this team in the right direction. This distrust in the coaching staff has trickled down to the rest of the team, as is apparent by the constant lapses in defensive rotations.
None of the Lakers trust each other on the defensive end and instead, are consistently shown with their palms towards the sky looking in disbelief at each other. Since there is no collective trust in what they are doing as a unit, there will also not be any trust in the player playing next to them.
This trust and team-unity must come from within the players, but it can be helped and fostered on the exterior by the coach. D’Antoni, however, has made no attempt at trying to make this happen and instead remains content on blaming the Lakers’ failed execution, play making and inability to finish games.
The resolution is simple: fire Mike D’Antoni.
If the Lakers’ front office makes the right decision, firing D’Antoni rather than making more trades, then the successor would most likely be in-house. Along with a possible terminated D’Antoni contract, the Lakers would also still be on the hook for Mike Brown’s contract as well. Adding a third coach, not already under contract, might be too much for this season.
As a result, any successor to D’Antoni would most likely be assistants Bernie Bickerstaff, Steve Clifford or Chuck Person. A new head coach, the third this season, would be disruptive to a degree, but it would still be better than the present situation.
For the Lakers to be successful, Pau Gasol needs to be in the lineup and playing at least 35 minutes per game. He is still a talented player than needs to be on the floor for the Lakers to operate at full potential.
The Lakers need a coach that will tailor a system towards their strengths – size and a dominating paint presence. There is no excuse for the Lakers to be outscored in the paint when they have Howard and Gasol inside.
Despite D’Antoni’s belief, Howard and Gasol can actually work together on the court. Look, for example, at the recent championship Lakers. Phil Jackson made Gasol and Andrew Bynum work efficiently on both ends of the floor, resulting in back-to-back championships. All the Lakers need is a coach with a simplistic system that would help Howard and Gasol fit together, rather than try and fight it.
With Gasol as a mainstay in the rotation, the other three All-Stars will obviously have to concede a little to integrate his unique talent. Despite this need to concede, the Lakers are still much better with him out there than on the bench. That’s not to say that Earl Clark should not getting playing time or is a bad player, but Clark’s role should be more of a backup to Howard and Gasol so that he can continue to bring energy and flexibility off the bench.
As it stands right now, D’Antoni’s system really only makes Nash and Jamison more effective on offense. So, as a result, about 70% of the team cannot run his system or do not fit in the system efficiently. That, along with D’Antoni’s stubborn coaching style and unwillingness to make in-game adjustments, will continue lead to the Lakers’ doom this season.
A new coach is definitely required since it is estimated the Lakers must finish something like 30-10 just to make the 8th seed in the Western Conference, an improbable feat at this point in time. Without a new coach at the helm, the Lakers will continue to squander and finish near the bottom.
And don’t forget, the Lakers may not even own their own lottery pick since the draft pick was traded to Phoenix in the Steve Nash sign-and-trade deal.
An off-season headlined by the acquisitions of Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison, and this is what the fans get? Increases in ticket prices at STAPLES Center, the intangible hype surrounding the Lakers, yet they are a measly 17-25?
After all has been said and done, the hiring of Mike D’Antoni, over Phil Jackson nonetheless, has slighted the loyal fans of the Los Angeles Lakers. In addition to the fans, players like Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard, who openly vouched for Jackson before the vacancy was filled, were let down by the front office’s decision to hire D’Antoni.
If D’Antoni remains coach for the rest of this season, the Lakers will inevitably miss the playoffs, and their future, Dwight Howard, may very well walk away, soon after. Phil Jackson is not walking through that door anytime soon, but any other coach on the Lakers’ staff, at this point, would be better suited leading this team. D’Antoni’s coaching system and style obviously do not work, and are a direct contradiction to the talent on this team.
Even though the fans’ “We Want Phil” chants were ineffective and it is too late to hire Jackson, it is now time for the Buss family and General Manager Mitch Kupchak to relieve D’Antoni of his coaching duties…before it’s too late.