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Welcome to the Silver Screen and Roll's new weekly post series, Silver Screen & Roundtable. We'll be back here every Monday with a writer's round-up featuring one burning question on the minds of Lakers fans everywhere and a bevy of responses from us here at SS&R. Enjoy!--Mambino
When Mike D'Antoni was hired in early November, many--including here on SS&R--publicly lauded the Lakers front office. With more than 30 games into his coaching tenure and L.A. potentially out of the playoffs, would you call MDA's run a failure so far? Or is he a victim of circumstance? And finally, do you think the Lakers can win a championship with Mike D'Antoni at the helm?
I would call D'Antoni's run a disappointment, not a failure. I still think D'Antoni was the best man for the job.
Unfortunately there are a few circumstances beyond his control that have really hurt him and this team. The injuries are the most obvious, but in my opinion the pieces don't necessarily fit. The problem I see is that Pau Gasol is NOT a power forward. He is much better playing a center on both ends of the court, but you can't ask him to play 12 minutes a game as a back-up. D'Antoni is stuck trying to make Pau into something he is not. For those riding the "Fire Mike, Hire Phil" bandwagon, I ask one simple question: How many coaches have won a title with Gasol as a power forward? The answer is none, zero, zilch, nada. The Lakers won two titles with Gasol but those were both seasons in which Andrew Bynum was injured and the heavy lifting was done via a Gasol-Odom front court. The year Bynum was healthy, and forced Gasol to the power forward position, the Lakers were swept out of the second round of the playoffs with Phil at the helm. Phil couldn't make it work, Mike Brown couldn't make it work, and now Mike D'Antoni is struggling to make it work. Is it disappointing? Absolutely. Is it a failure? Only if one considers someone who can't make a square peg fit a round hole a failure.
I do think the Lakers can win a title with D'Antoni on the bench. The Lakers, despite all the injuries and no training camp to implement his system, are scoring at a top 5 pace. Give them time to heal and a chance to get familiar with each other and the system and they could easily be the best offense in the league. Where the issues arise is on defense and many blame D'Antoni for it. While he is not known as a defensive genius, he has historically had teams that were average defensively, which would be a vast improvement over what the Lakers have done so far. The Lakers are simply too slow defensively and while everything gets funneled into Howard, the rotations to help the helper are consistently late. If the Lakers were to move Gasol in exchange for a power forward (or even small forward) with some athleticism perhaps the rotation defense would improve. In the end I do think D'Antoni can win a championship. He just needs players that fit well together on the court, not just on paper.
Saurav A. Das
I would call D'Antoni's run a failure - perhaps one borne largely of circumstance, but a failure nonetheless. Admittedly, I was on the 'hire Phil Jackson' train throughout the Lakers' coaching circus, though by this point in time I'd almost say sticking with Mike Brown may have been a better option.
It's been repeated over and over again: the simple fact of the matter is that D'Antoni's system is not cut out for this team. Many speak of how the system is a horrible fit for Pau; while that is indubitably a valid point, I'm of the opinion that the comfort level of what is ultimately the Lakers' fourth option is not the decisive factor in the success of a system. The crux of the matter is quite simply the Lakers' age - how the Buss family believed a 'Showtime' throwback would work with a team this old is positively baffling. True, the offense is functioning well, albeit not to championship level; yet, the level of defensive atrocity exhibited by this Lakers squad is inexcusable.
We speak of system, of fit, of how D'Antoni doesn't coach defense - they are all significant contributors to the problem; however, perhaps a more simple explanation is being overlooked: fatigue. D'Antoni's running the starters ragged through high minutes and high pace may well be hampering the Lakers' effort levels. Moreover, it cannot be conducive to their health, particularly considering the aforementioned issue of age, which was so eloquently put by Kobe - perhaps it may help explain their rash of injuries throughout this season.
The argument that 'the pieces don't fit' certainly holds true to an extent, it's obvious to anyone who has exercised even a passing interest in the Lakers throughout this season that the team is lacking a certain degree of chemistry; but this can only take us so far. Yes, the pieces don't fit, but that doesn't excuse the fact that a team packed with four future Hall-of-Famers - at least three of which are still producing at a high level - not being on pace to even make the Playoffs. If the Lakers were currently sitting a few games over .500 we would all be displaying similarly high levels of concern to now, and in this hypothetical scenario perhaps the explanation of the pieces not fitting could allay our concerns, but this team is not simply disappointing by the Lakers' standards: it's objectively bad.
Now, I don't believe the fault lies primarily at D'Antoni's feet; the lion's share of the blame should go to the Buss family. Yes, perhaps Phil Jackson was not available. Yes, there weren't many other coaches with sufficient caliber and reputation to be entrusted with this team. But why pull the trigger on firing Mike Brown so quickly, if only to replace him with what is ultimately an intuitively bad fit? The Lakers organization has been renowned over the years not just for making the big moves, but for knowing when to not make the big moves; their firing of Brown and subsequent hiring of D'Antoni is shaping up to be a blight upon that legacy.
The Great Mambino
I'd call it a spectacular failure. In any case where you have a team that was expected to win 55 to 67 games and they're on pace to win no more than 35 is an abject failure. Think about that for a second: the Lakers are on track to win just one half of the games most people predicted.
I wasn't a big fan of Mike D'Antoni's hire in the first place, as we talked about in the SS&R podcast right in the wake of the news. At the time, I mentioned that while the offense would continue to thrive--especially with excellent Lakers shooters dotted around the perimeter--the defense would suffer greatly. Throughout MDA's run in Phoenix, the Suns weren't nearly the porous defense they're made out of be. In fact, they had some of the league's best transition D, a scheme that was largely dependent on the team's young legs. Amar'e Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, Raja Bell, Leandro Barbosa and Boris Diaw is hardly anyone's ideal of lockdown five, but they had the juice to hustle back on possessions and at least contest shots. I didn't think that the Lakers would be able to replicate this performance. Lo and behold, LA's most glaring weakness is their inability to guard on the run.
That's of course not all D'Antoni's fault--after all, is he supposed to make Pau Gasol more fleet of foot? Of course not. However, it's MDA's job, as is the job of every NBA coach, to adjust his scheme properly to hide his team's weakness and highlight their strengths. On offense, he's done a fantastic job. Jodie Meeks, Jordan Hill, Earl Clark, Metta World Peace and Kobe Bryant have never looked better. Overall, the Lakers are 4th in offensive efficiency. However, MDA has yet to do enough to hide his team's lack of quickness and lateral movement. Many times when a team doesn't defend well, it's about effort, confusion or a combination of both. For the Lakers, I don't think it's about effort in many cases. The team is often confused as to whose responsibility it is to help and each other's capabilities. Moreover, it's not that this team doesn't get back on defense or run back to defenders--it's that they can't. It's just not in them anymore. That's not on D'Antoni. But a team-wide confusion? Part of that is lack of playing time. But part of that is on the coach.
That's not to say that injuries haven't played a gigantic part in this all. There's hardly been any time for this team to gain sustainable momentum or chemistry, seeing as Steve Nash has 13 games under his belt and the Lakers lost their entire front line rotation in one game. D'Antoni must be commended for keeping his guys playing hard through an incredibly disappointing season with so much tumult.
Overall, everyone is responsible for such an unbelievable collapse. The front office for making such poor hiring decisions, D'Antoni for not adjusting correctly, and the players, whether it was inadvertent or not, for falling to the injury bug. However, even if everyone was completely healthy, Mike D'Antoni isn't capable of leading this particular team to a ring. He's shown this before in New York, and at times in Phoenix--the man is too stubborn to adjust enough to win. If the roster is overhauled in the offseason, they'll have to fit MDA's schemes to a T. Otherwise, there won't be title #17 in Lakerland.
All of the above.
Mike D'Antoni's run has been a failure in plain and simple terms: Since his arrival, the Lakers have not won games at a higher rate, and they have not improved in either quality of play or quality of attitude. In many ways, they look the same hapless squad that got Mike Brown canned five games into the season. Is this MDA's fault? I guess he deserves some measure of blame, but not the majority of it. He inherited some bad circumstances, no doubt, but the main reason I don't think MDA deserves a whole lot of blame is that the players should be getting most of it. The way they played under Mike Brown made us think Brown deserved to be fired because he had lost the locker room. For their effort and effectiveness not to improve at all under the next coach means 1) that they tuned out D'Antoni before he even arrived, or 2) that the message being delivered to the players just doesn't matter. I don't know whether this is Kobe's fault, or Dwight's fault, or both (it could be others as well, but seems fair to me that those two are the main culprits). Regardless, something about the Lakers locker room is pretty clearly poisonous right now, and a coach can only be held accountable for so much. Put it another way: If it seems reasonable to need to fire two coaches within the same season, then the coaching staff was never the problem.
I will say two things further: 1)There is no guarantee that Phil Jackson would have made things any better. PJ is a living legend, but it stuns me how many people seem to have forgotten that the same malaise that is ruining this Lakers season began to fester for a full season under his watch. All Mike Brown, and now MDA, have failed to do is remove what started under PJ. It's possible that PJ could have gotten more out of Dwight (assuming Dwight is even physically capable of giving more than he has, which is not at all certain), and it's possible that PJ would have been willing to call out Kobe for some issues which we have recently documented. Then again, a lot of these issues, including Kobe's D, started under Phil, so there you go. 2) I'm still glad the Lakers hired D'Antoni over Phil Jackson. This may sound ridiculous entitled and/or foolish, but we know what we're getting with Phil and I, for one, am ready for something new. There's a very good reason the Lakers struggled so badly in 2004-2005 after PJ has left them, and it's not entirely because PJ is so much better than anybody else. He has a way of turning your roster into something that only he can coach, and when he leaves, it takes two years to remove that personnel from your roster to go in a different direction, which you have to do because nobody can coach Phil's system but Phil. I don't want to go through this again in two years. I don't want the inevitable drama that follows the PJ-Jeanie Buss-Other busses triangle. Especially without any guarantee of it working. I have no idea if the Lakers can win it all with MDA at the helm. I just know I'm more excited to find out if they can then to watch the Lakers go through a 3rd Phil Jackson era that has, at best, a slightly better chance of success. It's time for the franchise to move on.
The results are damning, but the circumstances he has faced would be daunting for any coach to overcome and they all compound upon each other. The injury situation has prevented the development of significant continuity in the rotation, something further stymied by the lack of a training camp as the team is trying to implement its third system this year on the fly. We expected that Kobe and Nash would need a feeling out period analogous to what LeBron and Wade had in Miami and while we've seen progress in that regard, it still is somewhat clunky due to Nash being out for so long. Same applies for Pau and Dwight, especially because of their respective injuries limiting their play and Pau's imperfect fit for the system they are running. And while one can live with Pau as a glorified version of Boris Diaw on offense, he has been horrific on defense because of his diminished mobility and this shows at the four spot. On nights on which Dwight is limited by his back and conditioning and Kobe is in full DGAF mode, the Lakers start at least four defensive sieves and it shows. Add in the paucity of wing depth and defense in general at that position -- hello Devin Ebanks being terrible -- and you have a ton of problems. This roster was designed around the idea that Dwight would be his usual dominant self from Orlando and anchor at least a top ten or so defense while the offense reduced opponents to paste. Well, Dwight has only shown flashes of this and the aforementioned lack of continuity in the rotation impacting the offense is relevant for the defensive side as well. So, we have a defense weighed down by a number of outright liabilities and again, no wing defense whatsoever besides Metta World Peace and to a certain extent, Darius Morris until Earl Clark materialized out of the ether. The offense, while decent by all accounts, is woefully inconsistent as a result of the chemistry problems and is nowhere near as dominant as it needs to be.
So is it proper to lay all the blame at the feet of D'Antoni? He's deviated significantly from how he liked to run things in Phoenix and acknowledged the need for his post-up players to work on the block, something he would normally treat as anathema. The implementation of HORNS has provided probably the most successful means so far this year of integrating the Lakers' four stars into a coherent whole, as Pau's passing, Nash's screen setting, and Kobe's and Dwight's cutting all combine into an interesting and generally effective offense, and did it without a training camp unlike Brown, who spent a month failing to impose the Princeton offense on a team that had already tuned him out. They still don't run the sets in an ideally effective way and they deteriorate into players dribbling too much, but we again return to the injury situation and the general lack of chemistry. And although criticism of the poor defense has resonance for a guy who has been criticized, fairly or unfairly, for being inadequate on that end, one doubts that Tom Thibodeau could turn this into an above average defense so long as Dwight is limited, Pau starts at the four, Kobe doesn't care, and the wing defense is nonexistent. Could one say that the Lakers could be better with Phil at the helm? Perhaps, but only marginally so given how deep their structural issues are. This is not to absolve D'Antoni of responsibility for the team's poor play -- the horrid pick-and-roll defense game after game is a bit much, for instance -- but to indicate that there's an awful lot of problems that extend beyond the coach. One can't say "TOO MUCH TALENT, WHY NOT GOOD?" without paying attention to context.
As far as whether D'Antoni is the right coach to lead this team forward, I think he can, but it requires a fidelity to his system from a personnel perspective just as the front office provided Phil with guys that were good fits for the triangle. You can paper over system problems with sheer talent, something built into this squad's design when everyone is healthy and on the same page, but in the long-term, we need to start seeing them incorporate the stretch fours and long-distance shooters that were not only successful around Nash in Phoenix, but also Howard in Orlando. In the short-term, the principle obstacle is figuring out where Pau fits, although his lack of effectiveness in all phases of the game has made it a bit of a moot point. Despite Earl Clark's emergence, however, the injury to Jordan Hill makes dealing Pau a dangerous proposition unless the team gets a suitable backup big as part of the return package, and it is unlikely that the Lakers would get anything that fit their needs until the offseason. Assuming everyone stays healthy, D'Antoni will have to continue to try to find a way to fit him into the system and while HORNS certainly appears to be one of the more successful attempts to find a place for him as a four man with a dominant big as his counterpart, the two haven't had a whole lot of success at achieving some synergy on the matter. This may ultimately result in us calling D'Antoni's tenure thus far a failure because the Lakers simply don't have the time for everyone to figure things out this year, but it's a different consideration with a healthier roster and one with less structural issues than the one he has as of now.
The Lakers haven't been very good. They weren't exceptional last season under Mike Brown, they were worse under Mike Brown to start this season, and even with a shake-up in coaching, they've been below average since Mike D'Antoni took over. At this point, the Lakers have been a failure, period. This lemon meringue pie of failure needs to be sliced up to account for the blame that needs to be placed, and those taking a bite will pucker up with how sour these slices are.
However, it's certainly worth noting the uphill swim Mike D'Antoni has had to conquer with this Lakers squad. He had no off-season to implement his philosophies with the team and turn stones on the roster. Injuries have been rampant and most recently claimed the season of Jordan Hill, to whom D'Antoni was giving minutes after being criticized for not doing so. The Lakers have had to run a plethora of odd-ball lineups to atone for their injuries. Watching the Lakers play the Cavaliers last night, there was never a moment this summer where I thought to myself, "Hmmm, a Chris Duhon, Darius Morris, Earl Clark, Antawn Jamison, and Robert Sacre lineup wouldn't be a bad idea". In fact, the thought of that group never crossed my mind outside of the hope that the Lakers would be able to generate garbage time for that abomination of a lineup. Seriously.
It's clear that Mike D'Antoni is open and willing to try just about anything with this roster to find even a few pieces of a working equation. For a coach that many argue doesn't "change", he's certainly changed almost by the game to find success. Injuries have made it difficult, and perhaps have even forced his hand, but he's trying. The most recent being the trial run for Earl Clark with Pau Gasol being out (and Jordan Hill being crossed out for the remainder of the season). Clark has been playing solid ball all around and now, four games into this new fold, has earned an extended look. D'Antoni gave Darius Morris a great deal of opportunity, even starting him and shifting Kobe Bryant up to small forward to tinker with the idea. Antawn Jamison had an opportunity to seize premium minutes off the bench as the backup power forward. He moved Metta World Peace to the bench so he could play him extended minutes as both a backup power forward and small forward. D'Antoni even took to a handful of Horns sets to try and utilize the starting five's diverse skill-sets, in particular Gasol's effectiveness as a facilitator and playmaker from the elbow. Mike is trying, and trying just about anything. The fact that he's had to reach as far as he has and still hasn't found a composite answer is a testament to just how difficult it is for a team to find consistency when rotating every player on their roster (aside from Devin Ebanks).
There aren't many coaches in the NBA who could withstand the pressure under such trying circumstances in an extremely competitive league and conference. Failure on Mike D'Antoni? No. Can the Lakers win a championship while D'Antoni has the keys, though? Certainly. This roster could definitely win a title with Mike D'Antoni as the head coach. An entirely different question, though, is "Will they?" It'd be incredibly homerific to say the Lakers will bounce back from this nearly half season funk they've been lingering in. Until they give us a reason to believe they're anything more than a dysfunctional mess, there's absolutely no reason to believe they'll put it together this season. If they play up to their potential over the final stretch of the season, however, it's anybody's game.