Los Angeles Lakers: Mike D’Antoni Steps Down, Best For Both Sides


Mike D’Antoni is out, much to the delight of Los Angeles Laker fans everywhere. (Photo Credit: USA Today)

It only took a 67-87 record, an injury-list as deep as the team’s payroll, and almost two years worth of criticism from the fans, but Mike D’Antoni has resigned has head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Last week, team management (headed by Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak), expressed their desire to give D’Antoni another season, mainly due to the lack of high expectations the team will have.  For the 2015-16 season, however, Buss and Kupchak weren’t going to roll with a guy that hasn’t shown success with their superstar, Kobe Bryant.

D’Antoni urged for the Lakers to pick up his 2015-16 option once he heard it was a good chance he would return next year, for a couple reasons.

First and foremost, the pressure is surreal.

Imagine sitting there at your office-related job, an occupation you landed strictly because of your success at another company.  Not only does nobody in the building enjoy your presence …. but they’re shouting at you from across the room, streets, and on your way home.  They let loose all the raw emotions once something goes awry and you’re the easiest one to blame.  Your employer chose you, a veteran that’s never been considered a champion in major competitions, over a worker that garners a world of attention for his achievements in taking companies to the top (Phil Jackson).

After your first year on the job, your bosses begin hinting around that the culture of the business needs a change, your best attribute (Kobe Bryant) isn’t cooperating with your performance, and the tricks that used to launch your success at past workplaces (Steve Nash) are too old and outdated to help you.

Knowing your next tough break — whether it’s your fault or not — could be the releasing of the termination hammer, is a ridiculous amount of pressure that no human being can endure without nervousness, and irritation.  Asking your employer to buy in to your notion of “rely on me for two more full years, and I’ll make a positive difference” seems to be out of the question.  Why not just move on?

D’Antoni wasn’t having that situation, state of uncertainty, and being forced to coach with a nerve-racking mentality that he could be ousted at any day.

There was another reason, which I feel is being overlooked, that D’Antoni wanted the 2015-16 option.

That’s the season where Hollywood is supposed to return to Lakers basketball town, finally turning the attention away from the cross-town rivals.  Isn’t there a stretch power forward (currently in Minnesota) that’s expected to throw a huge homecoming parade and march his way back to the Pacific?

Who wouldn’t want the guaranteed opportunity, or at least full confidence that they’ll be on the sidelines if Kevin Love elects to team-up with Kobe Bryant, playing alongside a young, budding star the Lakers select in the 2014 NBA Draft?  D’Antoni was looking at his job through a long-term lens, overlooking the mediocrity next season would bring.  Understand something, if there’s no sign-and-trade or package deal thrown together for Love during this year’s draft, the chances the Lakers have at reaching the playoffs in 2015 isn’t a gorgeous number.  April 2016 is a different story, however, as many believe it could be the beginning of Bryant’s last playoff run with his long-tenured franchise.

Standing as a group, Lakers fans should rejoice, and enter Jim Buss’ office — individually — to thank him for utilizing his brain when it comes to owning a storied franchise.

“Given the circumstances, I don’t know that anybody could have done a better job than Mike did the past two seasons,” Kupchak said following D’Antoni’s departure.

You would like to believe the late, great Jerry Buss wouldn’t have granted D’Antoni the second option year neither, but it was Jim that everyone was worried about.  His history of horrible mistakes throughout the last three years with his father fighting bad health, have been worthy of rants, face-palms, and enough to draw sheer disgust.  He’s currently hoping the large pay day awarded to Bryant last fall isn’t included in that matter.

For Buss to come to his senses and realize it’s important to keep their options open for the final year of Bryant’s contract means a little something.  It means he’s finally listening to the national criticism, taking it to heart, and was going to look elsewhere for a coach to potentially handle the Bryant-Love tandem.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with D’Antoni in certain coaching situations, but he’s one guy you study and then quickly label as “one that can only succeed in specific settings.”

Maybe that can be true for all NBA coaches at one point in their careers, and you can make a case that Phil Jackson is only able to accomplish success when he has a bonafide scorer regarded as a top 10 player in the sport’s history (Bryant and Michael Jordan).  But, in D’Antoni’s case, it’s been the same old song and dance for all of his 16 years of NBA coaching experience.

D’Antoni in a nutshell:  It’s about adjusting the stars and role players to his genuine, stubborn system of run-and-gun without deep focus or importance on the interior game.  If you’re not a player that fits those expectations and is thrilled playing under that system, you better change.  His coaching isn’t changing for the players.

If I’m the owner of a team, I don’t want young, promising rookies having to play under a coach that will try to mold them into something they’re not.  You want a compassionate voice on the sidelines, one that will adjust his system offensively AND defensively in order to help you grow as a player.  This just screams to the fact that Jackson, who is the ultimate example, has moved on to New York.

For years, it’s been D’Antoni’s bread and butter to get up and down the floor in intense fashion, trying to strike defenses before they have time to react accordingly.  With this, has come some of the fastest offenses the league has seen in the last decade, making for good basketball when the players are fit to undergo the physically-demanding system:

Pace1

I could see Bryant now, turning 36 years old in August, playing with a group of younger guys that’s getting shots up at an absurd rate, and risking further injuries to his lower body.

There’s nothing against the high-octane offense D’Antoni loves to run, but at some point, discipline (across the board) has to settle in.  Los Angeles has always been a place, or at least throughout the last two championship runs in 2009 and 2010, that one could find consistent, reliable defensive pressure, amidst having offensively-powered forces to work around.

It’s time to find that balance again.

We’re all aware that D’Antoni wasn’t the sole reason for the lack of defensive aptness.  The roster, from top to bottom, has not been appropriately filled with the talent to get the job done on that end of the floor, especially with today’s rising offensive stars and the destruction superstars, such as Kevin Durant, were placing on the league.  When Wesley Johnson is arguably your best defender in all aspects of the game ….. you’ve got a serious problem.

But, in sports, where else is there to point besides the guy making the calls?

It’s a tough situation, and bitter for D’Antoni, but the players aren’t that easy to blame.  They can’t be terminated when the team desperately needs some talent to go out there and provide, so it’s only in human nature to yell and bellow in the direction of the head coach.

Instead of “STAY” billboards we’re apparently heading towards when it comes to free agents in Los Angeles, the word “CHANGE” deserves to be plastered all over the city’s buildings.

This is just the first direction in the era of change, but at least D’Antoni did what was best for him and the team.  The next addition to the coaching staff better be ready for a thrill, and a world full of ups and downs.  If the injury tendencies even remotely compare to this season, don’t expect anyone to be a savior so quickly.

 

Tags: Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers Mike D'Antoni Steve Nash