Los Angeles Lakers: Mike D'Antoni Returns, and It Doesn't Matter

One underachieving playoff berth, and a 27 win season.  That’s Mike D’Antoni‘s coaching resume when it comes to leading the Los Angeles Lakers.

Many, including myself, would argue that Kobe Bryant‘s expertise and playoff guarantee were the reasons Los Angeles grabbed 45 wins with their point guard battling a broken leg.  Not only that, but power forward Pau Gasol suffering a torn plantar fascia in early February 2013 didn’t help the cause.  D’Antoni took over for Mike Brown after the Buss family decided to rid themselves of a coach five games into the 2012-13 season.  He immediately received criticism, and it was probably warranted.  He didn’t show capability of fitting with a high-powered superstar in New York (Carmelo Anthony) and he was selected over a coach that has 11 more championships on the job.

LakersChoosing D’Antoni over Phil Jackson was comparable to the comments made by a local owner in the city …. as both were egregious and uncalled for.

Now, team management wants D’Antoni back as the voice of the team, and it’s likely going to be for the next two seasons.

After this season, which turned out to be the Lakers’ worst since re-locating to Los Angeles, a countdown began ticking down on the days D’Antoni had left on the job.  In fact, that was this entire season, and D’Antoni doesn’t want that hanging over his head anymore.  Pushing for the 2015-16 option in his contract, D’Antoni would rather be relieved of his duties than having to “fight for his job” all through next year.  As a human being, if you step back and look at his viewpoint, it’s completely ridiculous how much pressure that can put upon a person.

Lakers fans shouting explicit messages to you from the crowd, chanting “We want Phil,”  or laughing in amazement that their team gives up scores in the 140’s on a regular basis …. is just tiring as a coach.

With Los Angeles being an unlikely destination for Pau Gasol this offseason, D’Antoni realizes an entirely new level of losing could be on the way, especially if his two veterans — Bryant and Steve Nash — aren’t able to give him a consistent season without injury.

“I’ve never concealed the fact that D’Antoni’s style doesn’t suit my game,” Gasol said at the season’s conclusion.  “I don’t know if my decision (in free agency) will be swayed whether Mike stays or leaves.  Obviously, the coach is a very important factor for any team.”

In reality, it’s a good possibility that if Gasol returns, we witness a season better than this year, but still not enough to clinch a playoff berth.  While Bryant claims he is ready to annihilate once this six-month training program is completed, he still doesn’t have a center that can match the skill of Dwight Howard, who could’ve signed long-term with the Lakers last offseason.  He still doesn’t have defensive-minded Metta World Peace, or fellow clutch friend Steve Blake on-board.

For next season, Bryant is the unlucky superstar once again, who just might draw the opportunity of teaching a youngster such as Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker.  There is no playoffs on the list of realistic expectations, since we know it takes nearly 50 wins to reach that goal.  If that happens, we’ll praise Bryant even more for literally being able to put the team on his back.

If next year is doomed before it even begins, why not let D’Antoni coach?  Why encourage Jim Buss to search for more questionable faces to take over as coach, since we know he is incapable of making the right decision?


There is still speculation as to whether or not the Lakers would trade their 2014 first round draft pick in exchange for a franchise star such as Kevin Love.  If the pick falls out of the top five and the best you can do is drafting a prospect that doesn’t have the “IT factor,” I imagine you throw the pick in Minnesota’s face and see if they’re willing to bite.  Kevin Love wants out, whether he says so or not, because he wants to win in the playoffs, not just the regular season.  Love realizes Minnesota isn’t the place that he’ll achieve the goal of winning a title as the current roster stands, so elsewhere he’ll look.

For the most part, however, Lakers fans can expect management to take one hard look at their future — and the fact that Love would be in that dreadful “contract-year” if he joined this summer — and ultimately decide to pass, waiting to sign him in 2015 instead.

That’s probably the safer way to go.  Why on Earth is it suitable to go through another Dwight Howard saga and eventually have to throw billboards saying “STAY!” up on the side of Staples Center and throughout the city?  It’s embarrassing, and it’s better for Love to want to come back to his home area.

D’Antoni would be under contract for Bryant’s last season in the superstar’s new two-year deal, if he is trusted through the 2015-16 season.  Nobody knows for sure how Bryant will feel at the end of that season and if he’ll hang up the jersey, but the shot at a title is still far-fetched.

It could be Love’s first season as a Laker alongside Kobe, with the team’s point guard being uncertain (Nash would likely hit retirement), and the roster is nothing but a toss up as we look at it now.  Bryant won’t enjoy having D’Antoni on the sidelines as he pushes for a sixth and final championship, but there aren’t a ton of coaches on the market that would propel this team — with Bryant and Love — over the top of the rising stars in Portland, or the most explosive duo in Oklahoma City.

Thus, let D’Antoni finish out his contract.  Everything has already went downhill for the franchise since Jeanie Buss has little to no say in basketball decisions, and that’s supported by her fiancee being disrespected by her brother in November 2012.

Bryant has one more shot at a title, and it’s not next season unless Carmelo Anthony shocks the world and joins the party to team up with his close friend.  In all reality, the personnel around Bryant for his last two seasons is the most important aspect of a title opportunity, not who’s shouting from the sidelines or in a timeout huddle.  The only thing the superstars — Bryant, Love, or Anthony — will care about is who fills out the team’s roster, and if they have valuable second, third, and fourth options on offense to be competitive in the West.

Love could very well look at D’Antoni leading the Lakers and realize it’s not an ideal situation considering how many front court talent have negatively responded to his antics this season, but then again, Love is unique.  He would have a coach that praises the 3-point attempts with passion, and Love eclipsed 500 attempts from deep this season.  It’s just hard to believe that a certain coach is going to stray away high-profile names from joining the purple and gold.

This late in your career (Bryant turns 36 this August), it’s well-past worrying about who’s going to coach your team.  There is a culture standpoint that makes you concerned about which direction the team is going for the future, but veterans can’t be worried about that.

The beginning of the end has already struck Bryant in the heart, meaning it’s time to start some heavy recruiting for the next two free agency periods.  Going out on top — in Ray Lewis fashion — is something the Black Mamba has his eyes set on, whether it’s with D’Antoni, Byron Scott, Lionel Hollins, Mike Brown, or Phil Jackson.

It comes down to how much he’ll control on the court, and if defensively-talented guys sign with this storied franchise.




Tags: Jim Buss Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers Mike D'Antoni Mitch Kupchak

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