This is the twelfth in a series grading the Lakers’ efforts on the 2012-13 season.
Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni
The Good: The Lakers’ 28-12 mark to close out the regular season correlated with the team’s health improving in Pau Gasol (knees, feet) and Dwight Howard (back, shoulder). But it also coincided with D’Antoni featuring both of them together and allowing the Lakers to play at a slower pace. Although it’s fair to wonder why this didn’t happen sooner, D’Antoni deserves some credit for eventually catering to his personnel instead of forcing his up-tempo system onto a veteran-laden roster.
Such change traces back to when the Lakers had an air-it-out meeting late January against Memphis. D’Antoni prompted the meeting because everyone from Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Antawn Jamison directly and indirectly criticized how he was coaching the team. This ranged from his insistence at playing at too fast of a pace, Gasol coming off the bench, not using the post-game enough and of course sitting out some players such as Jamison for unknown reasons. Team accounts say that meeting became a breakthrough because it allowed everyone to openly express their grievances in hope that everyone will eventually solve them.
D’Antoni would get overly emotional at times, but he also never lost his fight and will to make things better during never-ending adversarial situations. That ranged from having no training camp after replacing Mike Brown, significant injuries to Steve Nash (fractured left leg) and Steve Blake (lower abdominal) and handling competing agendas among players. D’Antoni should also be credited for helping reserves, such as Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks and Darius Morris, something Brown failed to do.
The Bad: Even if injuries ultimately derailed the Lakers from becoming a championship contending team, they could’ve finished had a much better season if D’Antoni handled personalities better and had a better understanding of his team.
Within the first week of coaching the Lakers, D’Antoni sat Gasol at the end of a regular-season game against Memphis only to dismissively explain, “I wanted to win the game.” Given Gasol’s sensitivity, it’s not the right way to reach the Lakers forward. When D’Antoni sat Jamison for six games, the Lakers veteran publicly griped not because of the lack of playing time but because he wasn’t explained directly the thought process behind it and how he could earn a spot back in the rotation.
When Dwight Howard sat out for six games because of a torn right labrum in his right shoulder that he feared could worsen, D’Antoni indirectly suggested Howard should just play through it by stating he already received medical clearance to play. It’s far too simplistic to attribute D’Antoni granting Bryant heavy minutes ultimately resulted in his torn left Achilles’ tendon. Outside medical experts agree with the Lakers contention that this injury often amounts to no more than a random occurrence. But shaving a few minutes off of Bryant’s time could’ve allowed him some long-term rest and spur more confidence in the rest of the team to pick up the slack.
Meanwhile, D’Antoni entered the season with these grandiose ideas that the Lakers would become another version of Showtime, averaging between 110-120 points. Even when it became clear the Lakers weren’t suited to operate at such a pace, D’Antoni wrongfully believed all the problems would evaporate once Nash returned from injury. That presence helped considering Nash’s history with D’Antoni in Phoenix. But the Lakers’ problems in transition defense, lack of athleticism and overlapping injuries showed those issues were more deeply rooted. It resulted in the Lakers going 7-15 in D’Antoni’s first 22 games.
Grade: C. Lakers general manager Mitch Kucpak has strongly indicated that D’Antoni will coach next season. At that point, D’Antoni will have a full training camp and possibly players that better fit his system. That should make his job easier next season. But it will also make the standard for D’Antoni even higher to reach.
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