Saturday, April 26, 2014

Mike D'Antoni Could Be ... BACK As Lakers Coach?

I read this report yesterday and was a bit floored.  For the last two months, it was nearly assumed that D'Antoni was as good as fired from the Lakers (editors note: I am a Lakers fan) when the season ended.  Heck, D'Antoni was even flirting with the Marshall University head coaching gig!

Now there is buzz that D'Antoni will be back?


The Lakers just went through their worst season since moving to California.  A team that won the second of back-to-back NBA titles five years ago finished with a 27-55 mark.  The Lakers will be in the lottery for just the 3rd time ever (Eddie Jones and Andrew Bynum were their lottery picks).  The last head coach, Mike Brown, was fired just five games into the 2012-13 season after getting off to an 0-5 start.  Yet D'Antoni could keep his job?

In D'Antoni's defense, he was left with basically nothing to work with since he's taken over the Lakers.  When he took over for Brown in 2012, he inherited a roster that wasn't built for his style of play and was completely different than the style Brown employed during his 87 games at the helm.  He took over that Lakers team (again, that started 0-5) and got them into the playoffs as a No. 7 seed, where they were quickly exterminated by the San Antonio Spurs.

Remember that towards to end of that season, Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles.  That injury limited him to just six very poor games this past season.  That, plus injuries all over the roster really hindered D'Antoni from anything close to a fair shot.  Steve Nash essentially missed the entire season.  Pau Gasol, Nic Young, Jordan Farmar, Xavier Henry and Steve Blake all missed significant time with injuries.  Wesley Johnson led the team in games played with 79.

Plus you need to factor in that this was sort of a lame duck season for the Lakers anyway.  They were pointing to this year's (and possibly next year's) free agent and draft class as a way to infuse talent into their roster.  The Lakers were one of the worst cap offenders and with the penalties added in to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Lakers had to get their financial house in order.  That led to a roster filled with draft busts, D-League players and guys who could be had on the cheap.  The hope was that Kobe could come back at some point, Nash would be serviceable and Gasol figured out his role in D'Antoni's offense and could make a run.  If not?  Well, this was a cheap roster with short-term contracts anyway and they were trying to go after a LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love or Chris Bosh via free agency and draft a Julius Randle or Andrew Wiggins with a high draft pick.  While it wasn't a complete roster upheaval like the Boston Celtics did, it wasn't really fair to D'Antoni's job status.

To be honest, D'Antoni really didn't do that bad of a job with the Lakers.  Wesley Johnson, a guy who hadn't done much of anything in his short time in the NBA, started 62 games for the Lakers.  Yeah.  Jodie Meeks led the Lakers with 70 starts.  Kendall Marshall, who was trolling around the D-League at the beginning of the season after being dumped after his first year in the NBA, started 45 games for the Lakers at point guard.  Jordan Hill (32), Ryan Kelly (25), Kent Bazemore (15),  Robert Sacre (13) and Chris Kaman (13) all started a bunch.  That led to very inadequate starting lineups as well as pretty much a different starting lineup each game.  Sixteen different players started for the Lakers this season.

With all of that and finishing with 27 wins in that awesome Western Conference is quite impressive if you think about it.  The Utah Jazz were the only team to finish with a worse record in the conference and they have a better roster.

Of course, that's really giving D'Antoni a break.

The dark side has the Lakers fanbase, who never really liked the hiring back in 2012, pretty upset with the direction of a franchise that is being led by the rather unpopular Jim Buss.  Laker fans understood that this was the lame duck season and that the summer of '14 was being pointed to as the time when the Lakers reloaded.  Since that doesn't look like it will be the case (right now, it looks as if the plan is to snag Kevin Love in the summer of 2015), the Laker fans may not really be interested in shelling out more big money for another season of D-League All-Stars, even if Kobe Bryant does return.

And what will return?  Kobe has a two year contract that keeps him as the League's highest paid player and he seems not to be interested in wasting another one as a bottom feeder.  Steve Nash maybe should retire with his horrible legs, but probably won't.  Pau Gasol is a free agent who could be receptive to re-signing, but makes no secret of his dislike of D'Antoni.  Nearly everyone else's contract expires and the roster will be overhauled again with one-year deals.

Seriously.  This roster next season is made up of an old Kobe Bryant coming off an Achilles injury, an old Steve Nash (he's the NBA's oldest active player) who is coming off two seasons of injury, Kendall Marshall, Robert Sacre and the 6th pick in the NBA Draft.  Nic Young has a player option and could be back, as could last year's 2nd round pick Ryan Kelly.

If this was nearly any other franchise, this makes sense as the Lakers will most likely head into another season of "tank mode" in trying to clear up cap space and stay out of the luxury tax jail they've been in for several years.  In doing so, it would make sense to hang on to the coach you are already paying instead of trying to find a new one (while you're paying the old one) to take over an unknown roster.

D'Antoni coaches this year and whatever happens, happens.  The team is good, bad, whatever.  They will have a season of Kobe Bryant coming back and getting playing time for that high draft pick.  Steve Nash's contract is off the books in 2015 and, if Kobe Bryant thinks he's had enough of this, could retire at the end of the season leaving more cap space.  The Lakers can then do what they have to and rebuild the roster then find the guy they want to coach it.

Yeah, that's a lot of unknown for a franchise that has historically been able to just trade for (Kareem Abdul Jabbar), sign (Shaquille O'Neal) or draft (Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Kobe Bryant) their next superstar whenever they need it to happen.

No comments: