Things have become pretty bad for Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni this season. The Lakers currently have one of the worst records in the NBA, which has led to calls for him to be fired getting louder and louder. There is no denying that this season has put the Lakers on course to achieve one of their worst ever records, and leaves them almost certain to miss the playoffs for only the 6th time in their history. But can that all be blamed on the coach? There are some legitimate reasons he should be given more time.
For the majority of this season the Lakers have had to do without two key players, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, who would have helped vastly with the running of his offensive schemes, especially the latter, who was the primary orchestrator during their days together in Phoenix.
The season has also seen a number of key rotation players miss significant amounts of playing time including Jordan Farmar, Steve Blake and Pau Gasol to name a few. If any other coach had to field teams consisting of second round draft picks, lottery busts and D-Leaguers including Rob Sacre, Ryan Kelly, Manny Harris and Kendall Marshall, would they have fared any better?
Brings the best out of most players
The Lakers did not have enough cap flexibility to take on any upper tier free agents this off-season. Chances were taken on players who were considered busts, and he has got several of them playing at a significantly higher level than ever before. Guys including Xavier Henry and Kendall Marshall are averaging career highs, and who would have thought a rookie like Ryan Kelly, selected near the end of the 2nd round of the draft would have proved to be a useful rotation player who continues to improve with each game?
The Lakers now have a bench
While this off-season’s acquisitions are not superstars, what they have proved is that they are solid contributors off the bench, which has been a problem for the Lakers for several years. So far this season they have one of the best benches in the NBA, ranked only behind San Antonio, having previously only been able to finish outside of the bottom 3 once since 2009.
During his tenure in Phoenix from 2004-2008 his teams never finished outside of the top 3 in Points Per Game and Offensive Efficiency, and reached the Western Conference finals on two occasions, so he knows how to get teams scoring the ball efficiently. Even in his first year with the Lakers, where he was not given an off-season to implement his ideas and had to work on the fly, with no bench support, he managed to get the Lakers scoring an impressive 102.2 Points Per Game.
With a handful of better players picked up in the coming off-season plus a top young player in the draft, and less injury problems, it is not impossible to believe that D’Antoni could have these players achieving the same offensive prowess that he had in Phoenix.
Defense not all his fault
A main gripe among the Lakers faithful is D’Antoni’s notorious lack of defense, which is highlighted by the number of points his teams concede on average. However, how many players on this roster could be considered elite defenders? In addition, Kurt Rambis, infamous for being in charge of the defense during the Phil Jackson era, was brought back to help take care of that side of things, so he should also be held responsible for the struggles on that end this year.
Whether you are for or against D’Antoni, the bottom line is that not once during his tenure in Los Angeles has he had a healthy or talented enough roster to let people accurately judge whether he is up to the task. However, the exciting basketball which the team is now playing means that he should at least get a full season with a healthy enough roster and a couple of higher quality additions before jumping to any conclusions.