Jan 24, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D

A Message to D’Antoni: Real Leaders Take Responsibility

There is no vaccine for disgrace. It does not evaporate, disgrace lingers like a virus. Some things are meant to last forever. It has been a full forty eight hours since the Lakers were humiliated on national television. Ask anyone who could bear to watch all of it: on so many levels it was wrong. Losing the way the Lakers lost is something that will not be forgotten anytime soon. If ever. The taste in the mouth is bitter, still. The day after, there were many who considered the Lakers quitters. There were many who wanted Mike D’antoni fired. They were many who could not bear to be reminded of what happened. It was such a serious transgression that D’antoni was forced to meet with Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss separately after it happened. For those who thought it could not get any worse, well, welcome to these last coaching days of Mike D’antoni.

It would be understandable if D’antoni was a blind man. If for some reason he could not see. Or, if his motivation was a pathetic attempt to save his job with the Lakers or to save his future career or even his reputation. But what has been on display these last forty eight hours is the D’antoni of Phoenix and the D’antoni of New York. When the pressure mounts until he is almost choking on his own sweat he tosses everyone else overboard and takes the last life vest on deck. Earlier in the season D’antoni’s dismissal was towards the fans. Today it was Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks. According to D’antoni, Bazemore and Brooks struggles have driven this boat into shark infested water: 132 points to the Pelicans, 142 points to the Clippers, 134 points to the Nuggets. It is not to say that Bazemore and Brooks are not part of a team that is defensively so disconnected and flawed they cannot get out of their own way. But real leaders do not blame or point fingers. Leaders lead. Two weeks ago D’antoni said Bazemore played with defensive energy and had a future as a really good defensive player. Now his weaknesses are derailing…what? Before Bazemore and Brooks arrived the Lakers gave up 114 points to Orlando, a lottery team. They gave up 110 points to the Knicks, a lottery team. They gave up 109 points to the Timberwolves, a lottery team. They gave up 108 points to the Cavaliers, a lottery team.

D’antoni likes to say his practices are devoted to defense. Really, that is like saying the milk man’s refrigerator is cold. Of course he practices defense; he is an NBA coach. But it is not how much time you devote to defense. It is not how much time you devote to pick and roll. But are you committed to the very thing you may hate? Either defense  is what you stake your reputation on, where you draw the line in the sand or it isn’t.

Don’t defend or you won’t play. Don’t defend and I cannot trust you. If you are a Chicago Bulls player and you don’t defend Tom Thibodeau will sit you. If you play for Greg Popovich and you don’t defend he will dismiss you. If you play for Mike D’antoni and you don’t defend you will be rewarded. You will be given a place in the starting lineup. D’antoni’s best defensive post player is Jordan HIll. He hasn’t played in a week. The question is not about practicing defense but about absorbing defense. Breathing it. You know who the defensive coaches in the league are. D’antoni is not one of them.

Ask yourself this: is D’antoni willing to give up his offense? Is he willing to slow the game down to play a tough, grind it out style? Would he revert from small ball if it would create more intensity or toughness? Would he enable more post play if that alone would help get more offensive rebounds? Or is D’antoni like every other human on earth? Is his past behavior indicative of future behavior? It was Winston Churchill who said, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”

He is as far away from perfect as the moon is from the sun. His first year in Phoenix his defense gave up the most points in the NBA. His second year in Phoenix his defense was ranked 28th. Then 25th. It did not get any better in New York and why would it? You are what your record says you are. D’antoni’s first two years in New York his defense was ranked 28th. And so it went, bottom feeders on defense which is the D’antoni miracle, the fact that he was not last every year. To my knowledge Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks weren’t on any of those Phoenix or New York teams. To my knowledge Mike D’antoni was, he coached all of them. He led all of them. He inspired all of them. The funny thing is D’antoni is always talking about his team having to be tougher and his team having to be grittier and his team having to fight. More often than not a team reflects the head coach. Perhaps he needs to be tougher. Perhaps he needs to be grittier. Perhaps he needs to fight more.

If D’Antoni wanted to call out names, then start with the point guards. These last three games the Lakers point guard tandem of Jordan Farmar and Kendall Marshall have given up 105 points. They have been beaten off the dribble, beaten off of pick and roll, beaten in the lane. They had 15 turnovers and 63 points. The power forward tandem of Wes Johnson and Ryan Kelly were equally tragic, giving up 102 points and 47 rebounds as they were the walking dead against Kenneth Faried, Blake Griffin and Anthony Davis.

Reggie Miller had an interesting twist on things. To his way of thinking the Lakers players should be happy they are playing at all because come next year they will be someone’s 11th or 12th man or perhaps in Europe. This opportunity is lightening in a bottle; it only comes around once. While that may be a stark reality for NBA role players whereas you are here today, gone tomorrow, it is not the case for coaches who have done nothing but make fans suffer. Mike D’antoni was the same person yesterday as he is today as he will be tomorrow. You saw it in Phoenix and you saw it in New York and you see it now. Someone great once said this: “Winning is a habit. Unfortunately so is losing.”

Losing is the only habit Mike D’antoni has perfected.

Tags: Los Angeles Lakers Mike D'antoni

  • Craig Hasan


  • Marty Susman

    GREG; I have been watching the Laker’s since they arrived in Los Angeles. I saw Jerry West hit his half court shot, I wish I had a dollar for every Laker’s game I have watched. I was sick when Magic became ill, i loved watching Kareem. I have had the honor of meeting Elgin & his family & I watched Kobe develop from a punk hot dog playing kid into one of the all time greatest “BUT” please, you language is so very much uncalled for. The article was beautifully written & 100% correct. This man’s coaching style is better suited for high school then for the pro’s. His style of play is & has been pasted over in the NBA, pure & simple…. We do however have to remember that he is here not because he is paying the Lakers to coach, Jim Buss is his boss, Mitch is his boss & they are the one’s who are keeping him here….We also should at this date remember & be honest that every time they lose a game, they get closer to a Wiggins, every game they lose brings them closer to a great draft pick. We have to remember that these two men gave Kobe, an older, now crippled player $48,000,000, these tow men brought us Steve Nash, a totally wised up older crippled player so although every single line of what was written is 100% correct is only half of the problem with Jimmy & possible Mitch being the second half of the problem.

  • Marty Susman

    We have to hope that other then being made fools of, other then not being able to truly judge the futures of these kids, that other then continuing to pay this coach rather then have Kurt take over. (They are paying them both now so dumping this man & bringing in Kurt would not cost them any money) We have to hope they don’t trade their draft pick that will have cost them the reputation of a great team & give it away for a Melo or something else totally & completely stupid for a short term press release, thats what we have to hope for. As for bringing in Kurt as head man, honestly I doubt he would accept, why should he now be thrown into the meat grinder for zero reason?

  • Marty Susman

    As for who, come on we all know Byron will take over soon along with Kurt, D.Fish & Kareem. We all know that at some point Phil will marry & become the next GM for the team. We all know things will get only slightly better until after the 2015 free agent draft. We all know tat Jimmy Buss is in torturous agony over what is happening. We all know that the Lakers, a BILLION dollar plus package is being crucified by the Time Warner’s as well as the whole of the fan base & his family. Let’s stop that vile talk & hope that maybe a Jerry West or a Phil Jackson can come in & bring us the rings we all want after the 2015 season worth a team filled with Seth Curry’s rather then a team of Karl’s, Gary’s, Carter’s & yes Kobe’s…..

  • James North

    Just look in the mirror, D’Antoni, to see where the REAL problem is.

    • hookedonnews

      The real problem is the roster. Reggie Miller’s comments should give you a clue. They were playing above expectations before Kobe’s return and were on a winning streak. Everything since then has gone downhill with one injury after another to key players, the trade that sent Blake to GS, and the acquisition of Bazemore & Blake. The season didn’t start last week, and a less than talented group of players has played hard and been competitive for the most part until the last few games. No reason to pretend that these guys would be burning up the league if only they had a different coach.

  • hookedonnews

    If most of these players aren’t fit for the NBA why are you laying all the blame on D’Antoni? You seem oblivious to what D’Antoni did in Phoenix with a team that was in the cellar when he arrived. He also took the Knicks to the playoffs for the first time in years. It doesn’t take a genius to see that Blake leaving and Bazemore & Brooks arriving has disrupted the team chemistry and caused problems. Stop playing to the MDA haters, and get acquainted with the facts. In his first full season in Phoenix the Suns won more games than any team in the NBA. They won 60 the next season with Stoudemire out most of the season. Winning 50 or more games in 4 consecutive seasons is not the record of a coach who has perfected the habit of losing. Stop pretending that this season would have been a success if they had a different coach.

    • James North

      Defense is about a plan and effort by EVERYONE. No team D’Antoni ever coached has played decent defense. His style has always been to just outscore the opponent, don’t bother with shutting anyone down on the other end. It’s a philosophy. He talks defense to the press but sits his few defenders. Sure, Phoenix could score but they too were always at the bottom when it came to D. This season was not going to be a success from the start but it could have been better with more emphasis on defending instead of worrying about getting every shot off within 15 seconds.

      • hookedonnews

        I agree that defense is about effort & a plan. They have a defensive scheme not any difference that most teams according to MDA. I don’t agree with you that D’Antoni is not concerned with defense in LA. Was he concerned with it in Phoenix? Not very much, but this is not 2004 and he knows this isn’t that team. He is not only talking defense to the press. They are spending the majority of their practice time on it. I have also heard assistant coaches and players talking about it.

        I don’t know what true defender you’re talking about unless it’s Hill, and he was playing until the arrival of Basemore & Brooks. They are trying to evaluate players right now, and Hill is injured besides.

        Your statement that there hasn’t been sufficient emphasis on defense is just an assumption on your part. Both players and coaches say otherwise. I think if they had stayed healthy this season you would have seen a much different season. I don’t know why so many people just seem to ignore the chaos caused by the unprecedented injuries.

        The group you’ve got on the floor now is a young group of players (except for Gasol) who have played together about 5 minutes (figuratively). Today they are playing much better because they are rested, not turning the ball over as much, or taking bad shots. These guys will improve with time. Kelly has played well on both ends today. I don’t know if they can sustain it all the way to the end of the game, but it’s fun to watch right now. Everyone seems to forget the number of games we’ve played on this recent go-around and who (and where) we’ve been playing. That makes a difference. They are playing better defense today. As long as they can keep the turnovers down, OKC won’t be getting those easy transition baskets.