Let’s All Stop Blaming Mike D’Antoni For the Lakers’ Woes

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Lakers

The headline here is going to draw some vitriol. I already know it. So before we dive into this whole situation I ask for nothing more than an open mind going forward. Leave your preconceived conceptions of Mike D’Antoni and his coaching schemes and philosophies at the door. If you’re able to do this, we might have a strong, legitimate conversation. If not, the comment section is always below and you’re welcome to tell me why I’m an idiot.

I would expect nothing less.

Anyways, let’s get started.

The Lakers are a team that’s, well, struggling. Even with two wins over the Celtics and Raptors on their road trip, and a hard-fought loss to the Bulls, they’re still struggling. The team is third to last in the Western Conference, with just the Sacramento Kings and the Utah Jazz below them. And, let’s be honest, the Jazz would likely be struggling just as much if they were in the Pac-12.

So, needless to say, two pretty lousy teams are at the bottom of the standings, followed closely by the Lakers.

Struggling is not too harsh a word, I would say.

Now there are plenty of theories as to why the Lakers are struggling. One of those theories is the head coach, Mike D’Antoni. Who has had Laker fans rallying against him before he ever even coached a minute for this team. Sounds like a sweet gig, right?

D’Antoni, whose biggest crime is not being Phil Jackson, has been beaten, battered and lambasted by Laker fans since his arrival early last season. In defense of the fans, he hasn’t exactly done a lot to win them over in terms of public relations, but anybody who knows Mike knows that’s not his strongest asset. Just ask the New York media.

As things continue to spiral downhill, fans are getting so venomous they won’t even call him by his actual name anymore. Instead, it’s tired, played out nicknames that really aren’t very clever, but everybody thinks their joke is the original joke, and therefore somehow funny.

Clever, right? I bet you’ve never heard that one. But wait, there’s more!

  Oh, because he looks like the Pringles guy! I get it, now. Man, what a clever and degrading (is it, though?) jab at the team’s coach. I guess. And, to be honest, those are the nicer things you’ll see about D’Antoni on Twitter. Most of the (PG-rated stuff) looks more like this.

 

 

And, just for good measure…

Yeah. Phil. You want Phil. We all know. So all these people want D’Antoni gone and fired because the team is struggling. But, the reality of the entire situation looks a little more like this.

Bingo. Mike D’Antoni is the easiest man to blame for the Laker losses because Mike D’Antoni is someone that Laker fans don’t like, relate to, or want. So what does it hurt to make him the scapegoat? Couple that with his less-than-embracing interviews and some of the comments he’s made regarding certain players and rotations, and you have the perfect storm of venom and vitriol. But does that mean these opinions are closer to fact than fiction? Is the anti-D’Antoni movement validated? Think about a few things for a minute. Mike D’Antoni has taken a team full of D-League players and NBA castoffs and put together a fairly reasonable squad. I’m going to get a little narcissistic here and post something I tweeted a few weeks back so you have some idea as to what Mike is dealing with.

You expect a coach to be successful with that riding on the pine? And, spoiler alert, that’s not even counting some of the other guys that are hurt. That doesn’t take into account Xavier Henry, Jordan Farmar or Steve Blake. But, in the mind of most fans, it’s still Mike D’Antoni’s fault. You could put a coaching staff of Phil Jackson, John Wooden, Tom Cruise and Bono together and they’re not contending in the Western Conference with this roster. It’s not coaching, it’s personnel.

In fact, I would argue that Mike D’Antoni has actually exceeded expectations this season. I would argue that he’s not only done a better job than most other coaches would in this situation, but that he’s been one of the main reasons the team isn’t in complete shambles.

This is a team that has had locker room unrest and excessive losing. Those are two quick recipes for nuclear disaster in the NBA, but D’Antoni has navigated the Laker ship around it. He’s managed to keep his locker room (relatively) happy while still producing a (relatively) watchable product on the court.

Los Angeles is currently 16-26, and fourth in the Pacific Division. But of those 26 losses, 14 of them were by less than 10, meaning the Lakers contended and had a chance to win. An additional four were less than 12, which likely means it was close and the opposing team made some free throws down the stretch.

So of their 26 losses, you could argue that the Lakers were competitive in 18 of them. Given the roster and the state of flux the team has been in all season long, is that really that bad? Especially when you consider that their worst losses, the ones of 15 or more points came against Golden State (twice), Dallas (twice), Oklahoma City, Denver, Phoenix, Milwaukee, and the Clippers. Other than the Bucks, which even I’ll admit was a bit of an embarrassment for Los Angeles, all of those teams are either guaranteed to make the playoffs or won’t finish more than a few games out of them.

I might be looking to unfairly credit D’Antoni where others feel he doesn’t deserve it, but when I look at this team I see things differently. I see a team that can’t stay healthy. I see a team that hasn’t had its best players for the majority of the season. I see a team with a bunch of guys that haven’t ever fit in during their NBA career but are somehow working together – as a team – in Los Angeles.

To me, that’s coaching.

So while I’ll be the first to agree that the decision to hire Mike D’Antoni over Phil Jackson might not have been the best idea, I’m not going to hold it against Mike. I’m not going to condemn him because he can’t win a championship with a group of wandering vagabonds. Maybe when the team is fully loaded and still under-performing I’ll be a little more receptive to the criticism and the venom. But not yet.

And remember what I said about the main reason for the anti-D’Antoni rhetoric being because he’s not Phil Jackson, and actually has very little to do with D’Antoni himself.

Boy, I hate being right all the time.
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