Should the Lakers fire Mike D’Antoni?

mike-dantoniDating back to last year, the circumstances of the Los Angeles Lakers hiring Mike D’Antoni seemed a little strange. Public perception was that the Lakers might re-hire Phil Jackson after Mike Brown was quickly ousted. But when D’Antoni was quickly tabbed to fill the Lakers’ head coaching role, it became clear that management didn’t want to be under Jackson’s thumb once again.

But even if they didn’t want Jackson assuming his over-expanded role, picking D’Antoni was still a strange choice. He later admitted that he never spoke with Dr. Jerry Buss before the hiring and couldn’t believe that they gave him the job. This didn’t seem to be a popular choice among fans, but given D’Antoni’s resume, it wasn’t the worst choice either.

He led Los Angeles to a 40-32 record in his shortened season, despite fighting an impossible battle to gel parts like Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard together. Unfortunately, Kobe Bryant’s season-ending achillies tendon injury wiped out any hope of a deep playoff run. In fact, Los Angeles looked totally outmatched when San Antonio swept them in the first round.

kobe-bryantThe offseason didn’t do D’Antoni any better since Buss died, Howard went to Houston in free agency and Bryant was set to miss the first few weeks of the 2013-14 season. But D’Antoni certainly didn’t spend any time whining, instead coaching L.A. to a 10-9 record to start the season. This was actually a pretty amazing coaching job when one considers that Chris Kaman, Jordan Farmar and Steve Nash all spend time on the injury list.

With a winning record and Bryant returning from injury, things were looking up for the Lakers. But then Bryant got injured once again, leaving his team down a 16-time All-Star. Still, the team pressed on and managed to sit at 13-13 and within striking distance of the playoffs. This will no doubt be the Lakers’ peak, though, because they’ve since lost 17 out of their last 20 games.

This stretch has not only put L.A. out of playoff contention in the loaded Western Conference, but it’s also put D’Antoni on a very hot seat. Sure they’d still have a shot at the postseason if they were in the East, but they’re not. This team is now simply hoping to avoid the Pacific Division cellar, a spot which they currently tie for with Sacramento.

Looking at Los Angeles’ 16-30 record, there’s more than enough reason to fire Mike D’Antoni at this point. This is the Lakers after all and they’re not satisfied with losing. Of course, we merely need to look at all of the team’s injuries to make excuses for keeping D’Antoni a while longer. It seems that L.A. management is now facing a very tough decision with the guy whom they mysteriously chose as their coach last year.

2014 NBA Futures: Lakers still gunning for Title Next Year

la-lakers-titleLast season, the Los Angeles Lakers featured a loaded roster that seemed perfectly capable of winning the NBA Championship. But even with a team of Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Metta World Peace and Pau Gasol, the Lakers struggled to a seventh place Western Conference finish and were promptly swept by the San Antonio Spurs.

Now the Lakers enter the 2013-14 season having lost the battle to re-sign Howard and with Bryant rehabbing his torn Achilles tendon. They also cut World Peace, who later signed with the New York Knicks. That leaves LA with the aging core of Gasol, Nash and Bryant – not exactly the chic pick to win it all next year.

Taking this into account, some people thought that the Lakers would be best served by bringing Kobe along slowly, clearing up cap space and waiting until the summer of 2014, when they could sign a big-time star like Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James. By tanking next season, the Lakers could also pick up a high pick in the talent-laden 2014 NBA Draft.

la-lakers-title-1But none of this seems to be in the cards for LA as they’ll be entering October with the same mindset as always: compete for an NBA Championship.

Bryant is rehabbing with plans to be ready for the preseason, the team signed big man Chris Kaman to a one-year, $3.2 million deal, and Nash is also healing from his injuries in hopes of playing a full season. As if these aren’t signs that LA is preparing for another shot at the title, general manager Mitch Kupchak recently said so himself.

“You know that’s not our plan. Our plan was to bring back Dwight Howard and that would have sky-rocketed our payroll,” Kupchak said, when asked about mailing in next season. “That’s never a plan here with our fan base, to throw in the towel before the season begins. We always try to win, and that’s what we’re going to do this year.

“We have challenges. There’s no doubt. We don’t know when Kobe’s coming back, and we don’t know what level he’s going to come back at, although we’re optimistic. Everything’s good with Steve. Pau should be fine. We’ve added some athleticism. We’re hopefully putting ourselves in position where we can compete in every game.”

la-lakers-title-2No NBA general manager is going to flat-out admit that they hope to be non-competitive just to pick up a high lottery pick. But there’s sincerity in what Kupchak says because the Lakers fan base has come to expect winning, and throwing an entire season away just isn’t acceptable. Plus they have some stars left over in Bryant, Gasol and Nash, who would be pretty mad if they got another year older without another playoff run.

But do the Lakers truly have a shot at winning the NBA Championship? If you were making a 2014 NBA futures bet, odds are that you wouldn’t put your money on Kobe and company. But then again, with the chemistry disaster that we witnessed between Bryant, Howard and Gasol last year, perhaps playing without Howard can only improve the Lakers’ chances next season. And even if they have another difficult, injury-riddled season, well, at least Los Angeles still remains an attractive destination for big-name free agents next summer.

James, Anthony, John Wall, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Andrea Bargnani all hit the market in 2014. And while some of these players will re-sign with their team, it’s likely that LA could land at least one of them based on location and reputation alone.