Outside of Dwight Howard and whether or not he’ll return to the Lakers this summer, the next most talked about subject will be the future of Mike D’Antoni.
In honesty, Mike D’Antoni was thrown into a no-win situation, none of which was his fault. It wasn’t his fault Mike Brown was prematurely fired five games into the season. It wasn’t his fault that Phil Jackson was consulted for the job, one that he admitted he nearly took. It wasn’t D’Antoni’s fault that Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak decided not to give Jackson his requested time and controversially sign him.
From the get-go, D’Antoni was put into a situation he wasn’t likely to succeed in. Not only were the Lakers going to make a switch from the Princeton offense, an offense known for requiring patience and discipline, to D’Antoni’s “7 Seconds or Less” offense, not known for it’s patience. To top it off, D’Antoni was coming in with the one player familiar to the offense, Steve Nash, out with a fractured leg.
We know how the season played out from that point. D’Antoni struggled early, eventually falling to 15-21 on the season before finishing on a tear and making the 7th seed in the playoffs. But which D’Antoni can we expect next season: first half D’Antoni that forced players into his system or second half D’Antoni who adapted to his players and reaped the rewards.
One of D’Antoni’s biggest mistakes when coming into L.A. was his misuse of Pau Gasol, which I broke down already. The gist of it is that D’Antoni put Gasol on the perimeter prior to his injuries that kept him out, severely limiting his effectiveness. Once he came back from injury, he was put on the elbow and looked like the Pau of old.
Clearly this shows D’Antoni had a willingness to change, but can we expect that next season? Will D’Antoni be so willing to change his entire offensive philosophy? Or will the Lakers go after players to fit the “7 Seconds” offense?
The last of those questions is pretty easily answered. Even if Dwight Howard leaves, the Lakers simply don’t have cap room to bring in players. Short of a trade, which is equally unlikely, the Lakers are stuck with what they have. The best they can do is offering someone their mini mid-level exception, which is only about $3 million a year. There won’t be any significant additions to this team in the off-season.
We addressed the no-win situation D’Antoni was put in, but I’m positive he doesn’t get the credit he deserves. Under D’Antoni, perhaps no team was hotter than the Lakers were in the second half of the season. Sure, injuries derailed any chance they had at competing in the playoffs, but it was their insane run over the final 40+ games that even got them there.
Lakers fans have to face the facts: Phil Jackson is not coming back. Every time this franchise faces some kind of problem, Jackson is not going to be there to save the day. He’s gone, done, finished. Jackson has said this off-season that he’s done as a coach. D’Antoni is what we have now, so Lakers fans need to start accepting that. And he did a damn good job, all things considered last year.
Which brings us right back to square one. Mike D’Antoni learned early on that this team isn’t built to run a fast-paced offense. The Lakers’ bodies were obviously breaking down all last season, and while it could be seen as a fluke with all of them happening at once, it’s still an obvious sign. If you run this Lakers team offensively, you’ll run them into the ground quickly.
However, what Lakers fans need to focus on is that D’Antoni WAS successful with this squad, even when they were less than 100%. If there was any benefit of exiting the playoffs early, it’s that everyone’s bodies have time to recuperate and this team will be 100% (sans Kobe) coming into next season. And given how his team performed late last season, I, for one, have confidence in D’Antoni.
But Lakers fans will undoubtedly give him a short leash. They’ll undoubtedly call for Phil Jackson to save the day. My wish and plea is that Lakers fans take a deep breath and give the man a chance. He’s earned nothing less than that.