There’s not enough fingers to count the sources aimed toward Mike D’Antoni ever since he patrolled the Lakers sideline.
The restless fan base booed him, cursed him and constantly shared their preference for Phil Jackson becoming the head coach after overlapping injuries as well competing player and coach agendas contributed to first-round exit to the San Antonio Spurs. Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol griped about not getting the ball enough in the post, while Antawn Jamison stewed about not playing. Even Lakers president Jeanie Buss updated her recent memoir to share how the Lakers passing on Jackson “practically destroyed” her both because they’e been longtime companions and Jackson won five of his 11 NBA championships with the purple and gold.
One party has remained incredibly consistent, however, in their support for D’Antoni. For better or worse, that involves the people determining D’Antoni’s future with the Lakers.
“He has to realize, and I’m sure he does, that we back him 100%,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said Wednesday at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo.
Kupchak uttered similar words throughout the season during both the Lakers’ struggles and following the season. But he openly suspected D’Antoni may have wondered if Kupchak’s words were no more than lip service. After all, the Lakers front office publicly supported Mike Brown before firing him following a 1-4 record to open the 2012-13 season.
Howard disliked D’Antoni’s preference for pick-and-rolls in a fast-paced system. But the Lakers still stuck with D’Antoni, while Howard eventually left for the Houston Rockets via free agency.
“We try to give him all the support we can,” Kupchak said. “I know Mike feels when he’s in this building, he feels all the support he needs.”
The Lakers have stuck with D’Antoni for various reasons.
D’Antoni, 61, has two more guaranteed years for a total of $8 million, while the Lakers still owe Brown about $6 million over the next two years. But the Lakers also remain convinced a lack of training camp as well as significant overlapping injuries to Steve Nash (leg), Pau Gasol (knees), Kobe Bryant (Achilles tendon) and Howard (back) provided too large of an obstacle for D’Antoni to overcome. D’Antoni finished his first season with a 45-37 record as a seventh seed, but the Lakers expressed encouragement over the team’s 28-12 to close out the season.
“Mike came in early in the season with a team that was injured, implemented his system and the whole season was a laborious process to win one game and the next game and the next game,” Kupchak said. “There was never enough practice to buy into a system and really players didn’t have confidence in each other.”
That’s why the Lakers acquired various players who could fit his system, including center Chris Kaman (pick-and-roll specialist), Nick Young (quick scorer), Wesley Johnson (lengthy defender) and Jordan Farmar (quick scorer).
“I feel the players we have are excited to play the kind of basketball that Mike D’Antoni coaches,” Kupchak said.
Still, Kupchak highlighted various things that suggest he feels D’Antoni could improve in certain areas.
That includes having a better handle on Bryant, who dominated last season’s offense, commanded heavy minutes and indirectly undermined him by questioning coaching tactics via Twitter during Game 1 of the Lakers’ first-round loss to the Spurs.
“The best Mike can hope for is to get to know Kobe better and figure out a way to manage it as best he can,” Kupchak said. “No coach has been able to control Kobe.”
Kupchak also said D’Antoni’s coaching staff are “going to have to change the way they coach” because of the Lakers losing Howard and Metta World Peace, two former NBA Defensive Player of the Years. The Lakers also hired Kurt Rambis, who oversaw the team’s defense as an assistant for 10 years under Jackson.
Still, that didn’t overshadow Kupchak’s main message.
“If we give Mike the chance, which we’re committed to do, and he has a training camp and healthy roster, people in Los Angeles are going to be happy,” Kupchak said. “I really do.”
So far, the sentiment has proven otherwise.