Record: 40-32 (went 5-5 without D’Antoni)
After the Lakers fired head coach Mike Brown 5 games into the season, the search was on for the replacement. Assistant Bernie Bickerstaff was chosen as the interim coach and did a great job, earning the highest winning percentage of any Lakers coach ever (so what if the sample size was really small). Many names were thrown out, but the two most logical choices seemed to be former Lakers coach Phil Jackson and former Suns and Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni.
Lakers fans made it abundantly clear who they wanted, chanting “We Want Phil!” All the news coming from various sources and media outlets was that the Lakers had engaged Phil Jackson in talks and he was to make his decision on a Monday. Come Sunday night, close to midnight, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchack gives Phil Jackson a call to inform him the Lakers were going with Mike D’Antoni, as he was the “better fit for this team.”
Right off the bat, Mike D’Antoni was put in a very difficult situation. Lakers fans were used to getting what they wanted – see Steve Nash and Dwight Howard last offseason – but that was no longer true. Everyone had expected the Zen Master to come back and save the Lakers’ sinking ship. Instead a coach whose best season was 7 years earlier was brought on to utilize the Lakers 39 year old point guard. It was easy to see why fans weren’t praising the hire. Jim Buss brought him in to make the Lakers offense look like Showtime instead of the Slowtime they played under Mike Brown. That never materialized.
The Lakers struggled mightily under D’Antoni initially, giving Lakers fans reason to panic. What had been touted as one of the most vaunted starting lineups of all time was 8 games below .500. Mike D’Antoni’s run and gun offense was a total clash with the Lakers personnel. Pau Gasol was asked to stand out by the 3 point line in an attempt to spread the floor, and was later relegated to the bench so D’Antoni could start someone more capable of spreading the floor, Antawn Jamison or Earl Clark.
When you choose to send a two-time NBA Champion to bench for players who haven’t sniffed that kind of success, perhaps it’s time to rethink your strategy. But D’Antoni didn’t. He stubbornly stuck to the ideal that he could transform this old, injured Lakers squad into something resembling his “Seven Seconds or Less” Phoenix Suns teams. This concept never came close to fruition, because the Lakers personnel were not built for this style of play.
Even with all these issues, after the Lakers bottomed out at 17-25, they improved mightily going 28-12 over the last 40 games. The team managed this record even with injuries to Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace, Jordan Hill, Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant. Mike D’Antoni had perhaps the most difficult coaching job in the NBA this season, and even though it didn’t turn out as the Lakers wanted, he wasn’t the reason they did not succeed.
2013-14 Season Preview:
As loud as the cries for D’Antoni’s head will be, he is going to be the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers next season, unless he leaves on his own power. If D’Antoni were to be fired, the Lakers would have to pay his salary for next season and the following season, the remainder of Mike Brown’s deal for next season, and the new head coach’s salary. All of this while being very deep into the luxury tax. The Lakers make a lot of money, but you can’t continue to make that money if you are paying three head coaches in one season.
Mike D’Antoni needs to adjust his offensive game plan if he wants any sort of playoff success with this team. No matter what moves the Lakers make this offseason, they won’t have the youth and three point shooting to turn into what D’Antoni wants. If the Lakers enter next season with Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol on the roster, D’Antoni had better be willing to adjust his coaching style to accommodate more post play. The Lakers are potentially looking at starting the season (or going the entire season) without Kobe Bryant. There shouldn’t be any question as to how the Lakers should function without the Mamba in action, but only time will tell if Coach D’Antoni sees it the same way.
Assuming the Lakers enter next season with the core of Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks, Jordan Hill, plus whoever else they find to round out the roster, the Lakers will have a better record. Head Athletic Trainer Gary Vitti said the injury situation was “as bad as any he’s seen in 29 years as athletic trainer”. The Lakers played noticeably better after Mike D’Antoni had gotten a feel for the team and 50+ wins should be expected of this team next season.