As hot as the criticism got last season on Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash, former head coach Mike Brown and VP of Player Personnel Jim Buss, no man was under more scrutiny than Mike D'Antoni. The mustachioed skipper had one of the most polarizing years in LA history, being blamed for a weak defense and ineffective rotations, but simultaneously being given a pass because of the rampant roster injuries. Even armed with 2 years and $8 million left on his contract, there's still questions as to whether or not MDA would be leading the Lakers in November.
Will Mike D'Antoni be the head coach for the beginning for the 2013-2014 season?
The Great Mambino
No. But first, let's get this out of the way: regardless of whether or not he should be the coach has no bearing on the fact that he's not the right man for the job. It's not a secret that Mike D'Antoni hasn't been given a fair shake at all. He was thrown into the middle of a season without the key player that could make his sometimes transcendent offensive system work properly (an injured Steve Nash). From there, he was given spotty attendance from everyone from his major stars to role players, with the team having to reset it's progress with every visit to Gary Vitti's trainer's table. Without massive changes that the team likely won't make, the 2013-2014 Lakers will be an older team who will need to slow the game down in order to succeed. I'm not saying that Mike D'Antoni can't coach a team like that--he certainly can, and did. But if MDA isn't in LA to harness his greatest strength, then why is he around at all?
Dwight Howard knows this and likely cannot be enthusiastic that D'Antoni will be the coach come November. I'm under the belief that the Lakers will do whatever it takes to keep Howard, which includes firing a coach that they've already got a hunch might not be the right guy going forward regardless of Dwight's impressions. The counter argument here is: if they're going to change coaches, why haven't they done it now while there are still viable candidates available? Well, if Howard leaves LA, Kobe's out for the season and the team is looking to dump salary via a Pau Gasol trade, then why spend more money on a new coach? The Lakers can't make a move until they talk to Dwight, which won't happen until we get closer to July. However, the last thing Howard wants is to be known as a coach killer. The Lakers will strike pre-emptively, similar to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010 when they fired Mike Brown in late June, trying to clear the big man of any culpability.
Yes. With neither Van Gundy brother seemingly making themselves available and Phil on his trash-everyone-to-drum-up-
Now, this presumes that the Lakers are going to be competitive, or in other words, that they're keeping Dwight. We have covered in detail what the alternative constitutes, so Dwight leaving means that MDA is presiding over a thorough tank job. Is he the right coach for that situation? Perhaps. Your overriding concern becomes player development rather than maintaining a strategist who needs a team built around his ideas. It's hard to get a handle on whether MDA is suited for such a role given how much Phoenix hemorrhaged picks during his tenure or how all the young guys on his New York squad were unceremoniously shipped off en mass for Carmelo Anthony. Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler did develop well as players in his smallball, shooting intensive system, however. Normally in these situations you shoot for the moon and hire an assistant who can develop along with the team, but with the Lakers rebuild taking place over such a short period, that probably won't be possible. The most promising assistants, moreover, are increasingly become scarce, as San Antonio's Mike Budhenholzer has taken the head gig in Atlanta and Dave Joerger is the likely successor to Lionel Hollins in Memphis. Perhaps Miami's David Fizdale or Houston's Kelvin Sampson could be options, but either way, it seems doubtful that the Lakers jettison MDA for much of the same reasons as above: there's no home run candidate to take the reins for the rebuilding process, just as it was with a more competitive version of the team. And MDA already has dealt with the travails of a job in which your management's job is to gut the roster and gain financial flexibility, so this all would make his departure quite the surprise should it occur sometime this offseason.
Yes. Mike D'Antoni's first year in LA may not have inspired much confidence, but the bottom line is this: The man deserves a chance. He deserves a chance to let the front office shape the roster around his preferred system. He deserves a chance to have a training camp to get his players in the type of shape he needs them to be in. He deserves a chance to teach them his preferred offensive system. He deserves a chance to convince Dwight Howard that they are perfect for each other as a player-coach combination. He deserves a chance to coach the team without having to listen to "We Want Phil" chants rain down from the rafters (a chance he will likely never get). Mostly, he deserves a chance to work with a roster not completely decimated by injuries before we can pass full and final judgment on him.
MDA's first year was not inspiring; in fact, it was pretty terrible. There are plenty of troubling signs that he will not end up being the right man for the job, from his negative relationships with Dwight and Pau Gasol to the quotes from Kobe about how he had to convince D'Antoni to move away from MDA's system and towards something that the team ended up finding some success with late in the year. It could very well be that everything the least bit positive about last season happened when D'Antoni just got out of the way, and it could very well be that he was a terrible hire that should never have been brought on board. But firing a coach after one season is rather an unreasonable thing to do, and firing a coach after one of the most injury-impacted seasons in the franchise's history is downright ludicrous.
Yes, I expect Mike D'Antoni will be the head coach once the 2013-2014 season begins. Simply put, he's under contract for the next two seasons and there's no available coach that immediately jumps out as an upgrade, or a fit, next season. That may be what's best for this team, however. There's only a small window left for Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, and if Dwight Howard does return to Los Angeles they already have familiarity as a team regarding what to expect from him.
There's also the fact that D'Antoni will have had an off-season to look at what did -- and didn't -- work with this team, and a training camp to fully implement what he has in mind. The Lakers did find ways to score effectively and had a few moments where it looked like they were going the right direction, but L.A. never fully capitalized on the progress they made. The biggest scare is on the defensive side of the ball. With the majority of the assistants on D'Antoni's staff (read: the huge staff they assembled for Mike Brown) moving on, there's a great likelihood that they'll place an emphasis on adding a defensive specialist to the suits on the bench.
No, not Lakers players wearing suits because they're injured.
The only disconcerting piece to this puzzle is that Los Angeles has not added any additional coaches to the staff yet. This is likely due to the mass amount of head coaching positions that opened up. The Denver Nuggets, Brooklyn Nets, Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers still have coaching vacancies to fill, but the carousel has begun to wind down with many of the lower profile jobs being filled out. If the Lakers add one or two assistant coaches in the next few weeks it's essentially a given that D'Antoni returns.
The longer they wait, though, the closer they move towards free agency, and the more one has to wonder how much credence there was in the "leak" that Howard is unhappy playing under D'Antoni.
Yes, D'Antoni will be the coach again next season, as he rightfully should be. I've discussed the reasons why he should be brought back before. No coach has had to coach through such a rash of injuries, with a coaching staff he didn't pick,a roster he had no input on, and no pre-season training camp to work out the kinks, all while being in the constant spotlight that comes with the Lakers "championship or bust" mentality. The simple fact that he finished the second half of the season with a 28-12 record, fourth best in the NBA during that span, while still dealing with injuries to key players is enough to warrant him getting a full chance to succeed.
Next season shouldn't just be about giving a guy the proper chance to succeed though. The big question is whether or not MDA could be the answer long term and I think one could make the case he is. The NBA is quickly moving the way of "moneyball" where advanced analytics will become a huge part of building a winning system and team. What D'Antoni did in Phoenix, with a focus on spreading the floor and creating space for drives to the rim or spot up threes is what the analytics community would call value maximization and it is the reason why his offenses were the greatest in NBA history. The Lakers are team whose identity will never be defensively oriented grind-it-out east coast style basketball. That won't sell in the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, especially if the more aesthetically pleasing "Lob City" is in the locker room down the hall. The Lakers are more than basketball, they are a style and a culture. They are a culture of not only winning, but winning in entertaining manner. Mike D'Antoni can coach that type of system. The only thing he needs is the players that fit it. Three of the Lakers top 5 three point shooters by volume were Metta World Peace (34%), Jodie Meeks (36%) and Antawn Jamison (36%). These "shooters" are a far cry from the D'Antoni Suns teams such as the 2006 squad which had 6 of the top 7 three point shooters by volume make over 38% with 4 of the 7 being over 42%. If the Lakers could acquire a couple of floor spacers like that, this squad could win a championship (assuming Howard and Bryant both return healthy).