Mike D’Antoni Talks Last Year’s Struggles, Next Year’s Expecations

Darius Soriano —  September 25, 2013

Mike D’Antoni doesn’t have the best reputation amongst a large legion of Lakers’ fans. He’s the guy who captained last season’s championship caliber roster into the ground; the guy who took Phil Jackson’s rightful place on the sidelines. There’s shades of truth in those beliefs, though they’re also both woefully short of fully describing all the variables that factored into what was one of the more disappointing campaigns in recent memory.

For all of D’Antoni’s faults — both actual and perceived — one thing he is not is oblivious to the struggles last year’s team faced. In fact, in the video above, D’Antoni essentially owns up to many of the mistakes made last year — from trying to play too quickly, to miscasting Pau Gasol as a stretch forward, to relying too much on Nash’s eventual return as the trigger for a turnaround. At the time, as I’m sure he’d admit, there were valid reasons to believe those things would work. Hindsight, however, shows those decisions were faulty.

Heading into next season one can only hope D’Antoni has learned from some of his errors and finds ways to better utilize the roster he has on hand. The roster, of course, has been reshaped and some of the pieces better fit what he’s traditionally liked to do offensively. However, that doesn’t change the fact that he still must account for an aged Nash, a returning from injury Kobe, and a still-best-in-when-in-the-post-Pau Gasol. Finding the balance between his ideal offense and what talent he has on hand will be one of his bigger challenges this off-season.

And while the biggest story-lines are still ones associated with whether the team’s best players can return to form, the one that’s probably most important still revolves around the man calling the signals from the sidelines. Because regardless of how fans feel about him, he’s still the guy with the job and how far this team goes will depend on all the talent on the roster, including the talent of the head coach.

Darius Soriano

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35 responses to Mike D’Antoni Talks Last Year’s Struggles, Next Year’s Expecations

  1. I saw this video yesterday. D’Antoni also mentioned that he was, like so many of us, envisioning a devastating Nash and Howard PnR. That was one of the main reasons I backed the hire, and I do not think MDA did a particularly good job with that. Some of it is on the players, but that is a coaching thing as well.

    While I respected MDA’s candor, I also was non-plussed by the stuff about playing too fast, since it was pretty obvious, based on the personnel, even before he had run a practice, that the team should not play as fast or as take as many 3s as a typical MDA team. I said on the day of the hire that I thought he would adjust. He did, some–but those should have been pre-adjustments IMO.

    Anyway, we will see how he does with this group. As I said a few weeks ago, if the Lakers lose 48-55 games, I think that this year may be MDA’s last as an NBA coach. OTOH, if they win 42-47 somehow, his rep will shoot way up again.

  2. Very fair commentary Darius.
    Lakers fans who say: “He’s the guy who captained last season’s championship caliber roster into the ground” I do not even say that : ) However – I would say – Last year’s roster was once perceived as championship caliber. Injuries, poor chemistry, and MD were reasons it fell short.
    “the guy who took Phil Jackson’s rightful place on the sidelines” Well – gotta agree with that.
    “how far this team goes will depend on all the talent on the roster, including the talent of the head coach.” Definitely. Problem is that we have a dearth of talent right now. So we already know that is a limitation with regard to results. So the excuse is built in. I will be surprised if the results of this year significantly change anyone’s mind. No sarcasm please : ) I am being serious. If you like MD – you are going to say that the Lakers had no talent and he deserves a chance with the new FAs. And if you do not like MD, then this year’s likely subpar results are certainly not changing anything. Most of our roster is going to be gone soon, so there is not building of chemistry this year. And if we are under 500, I can hear it now – “At least we were scrappy and we all tried real hard”. If we finish above 50 wins and make some noise in the playoffs – most will say to keep him. If we finish under 35 wins everyone will be calling for him to go. In between 35-50 the debate will rage on in its current form. This decision can be probably be made right now – and perhaps it has : )

  3. rr: We were close. I said 35 wins – you said 48 losses : ) Of course the huge variable is Kobe. How many games played and how effective.

  4. ooooh an MDA discussion – Christmas has come early! lol….

    Seriously though, I have to agree with rr. He is stating the obvious and I wonder whether or not he was stubborn finding these “truths” out or if he is telling everyone what they wanted to hear. Seriously, to run with that roster or try to run is mind boggling. Every team that has played the lakers since the acquisition of Gasol have tried to run against the Lakers. The Lakers have not been able to run since the 2008 team with the backup unit. A man who is considered an offensive genius should have identified that quickly.

    Like rr, I thought the prospect of a Nash/Howard P/R would be almost unstoppable. I thought a few players would have career shooting years with Nash “making them better” but ehhh…injuries happen. Not to mention the fact that Howard doesn’t roll hard to the basket like Amare to score but rolls to seal his defender for an easy bucket on ball reversal.
    —-
    Good news is the Lakers at least have a full training camp to establish an identity. Whether that is being a defensive team, or learning the nuances of the princeton offense for an entire camp (too soon?), or being a running team, MDA can either adapt to his personnel or have them adapt more to his style. Finding the balance will be the challenge and the fun part.

    S/N: Does anyone know if Sasha Vujacic is getting a training camp invite or not? Haven’t heard anything since the initial post about his open gym runs.

  5. ESPN never ceases to amaze me with these ‘Interviews’ .. Am I to believe that the network flew Stephan A. – who mind you, has been one of the harshest critics of D’Antoni and Jim Buss (YouTube it for confirmation), and puts them on blast every opportunity that he gets – across the country to sit down for an ‘Interview’ that last a lil over 3 minutes? Ever since Jim Buss chose D’Antoni over Phil, Stephan A. has, at one time or another, campaigned for Jeanie to supplant Jim as the Head of Basketball Operations (although, due to their father’s wishes, we all know that this isn’t possible) and stated, on numerous occasions, that D’Antoni was the wrong choice as coach due to his opinion that D’Antoni doesn’t care at all about defense. I mention these 2 examples (and trust me, I could’ve mentioned several more) for the sole purpose of pointing out that we, the viewers, should feel cheated by ESPN for such an ‘Interview’ due to the fact that there is so much more ground to cover in this instance. Three minutes and change can’t cut it (no pun intended). Personally, the ‘Interview’ didn’t enlighten me to anything that I didn’t already know or haven’t already seen. ESPN chops these ‘Interviews’ up so much that, imo, when it’s all said and done, what the viewer is left with is nothing of substantial value. Especially in this case. I know that these ‘Interviews’ have to be edited because of time constraints (slotted into a 1 hour episode of Sportscenter). So basically, what I’m trying to say is that, due to the venom (some would say warranted) that has been spewed by Stephan A. towards Mike D’Antoni, and for that matter, the organization as a whole as of late, I would love the opportunity to see the ‘Interview’ in its entirety (haven’t located it on YouTube as of yet). Then maybe I’ll be able to take something away from it.

  6. FYI Smith was in town to attend the Emmies and MD was probably an after thought by Lakers to quell the Jeanie Book controversy. The media used to mean quality in the days of Jim Murrey and Bud Furrilo who actually cared about truth and built relationships with teams they covered. These days the media includes internet hacks, bloggers and 20 networks who only want to make a name for themselves by taking 5% truth and turning it into stories to build their own cred. Garbage in garbage out and I for one ignore the so called experts and media and consider most as bsedia. Darius of course excluded from my above rant!

  7. We heard from the coach, now the GM:
    http://espn.go.com/los-angeles/nba/story/_/id/9723390/mitch-kupchak-los-angeles-lakers-says-no-table-kobe-bryant-return
    “”I do believe that [Bryant will] get back and he’ll play this season.” Eeek that is not exactly what Jim said.
    “What Kupchak hopes will change is the public’s perception of D’Antoni.” I wonder how they plan to make that happen.
    “it’s going to be tough to get players to move” Evidently not that tough – perhaps we could ask the Rockets for the secret.
    “If not, then we’ll move to the next offseason and then we’ll move to the next offseason. I know at some time we’ll be able to put together a very competitive and attractive team here.” Wow

  8. I mean what can MDA say? That he did everything right and everything else went wrong?

    I’m not asking you to love MDA. All I’m asking is for you to give him a chance to succeed. And if he can’t, then blast away!

  9. There will be a lot of minimum salary guys, basically playing for their careers. They’ve got to know that playing well for MDA gives them their best shot of moving forward. I think there will be some live basketball this season.

  10. “LakerFanatic September 25, 2013 at 2:07 pm
    ooooh an MDA discussion – Christmas has come early! lol…”

    Thanks for the chuckle … yeah, a fresh new topic to write about, huh?

    .

  11. “it’s going to be tough to get players to move” Evidently not that tough – perhaps we could ask the Rockets for the secret.

    Touche’, Robert!

  12. Contrarian that I am, I believe that Dwight was looking for a good landing spot from the time he came to the Lakers. He has viewed Kobe and the pressure Kobe operates under since he entered the NBA and he clearly did not look forward to living under that kind of pressure for the remainder of his career. Now I don’t think Dwight was consciously dishonest with the Lakers – he doesn’t operate in that calculating a manner – but he clearly didn’t attempt to put down any roots here and he never walked through the Laker door that was opened for him.

    With that as a preamble, what happened was not only predictable, but somewhat inevitable. Unless everything broke right, I think Dwight was gone. Well everything pretty much broke wrong.

    My reason for this rant is the assumption that we should learn something from the way the Rockets handled the situation. Even in jest, this is a silly statement – IMO.

  13. I mean what can MDA say?

    I don’t have a problem with what he said. I have a problem with the fact that I think he should have known/realized some of these things before he actually coached a game here. It was basically common knowledge that the Lakers were too old, shallow and slow to play SSOL ball, and that one of their keys to success would be developing Nash/Howard synergy.

    As to Howard, I addressed that in comments 38 and 39 of the thread two back from this one. Howard picked the team of the ones available to him that gave him the cleanest, surest shot to play in the NBA Finals some time over the next three years. There were other factors, like the generation gap with him and Kobe/Pau, his buddying up with Harden and Parsons, his discontentment with the D’Antoni hire, his respect for Olajuwon, etc. But I think it was basically a basketball decision, however one wants to analyze it and apportion blame for it.

  14. Kupchak’s presser is played in full at the KBros site:

    http://landolakers.com/

  15. Daryl Morey struck out for 2 seasons before he landed James Harden via trade. Right up to that point he was a silly genius MIT grad that was called Dork Elvis.

    The purpose of cap space and flexibility is to wait for other teams to blink. Had the Rockets completed the Gasol trade they wouldn’t have been able to land Harden, as part of the assets were traded. In retrospect, he looks every bit of the genius he is. But all he did was wait for the right moment to pounce and capitalize on the team’s assets that he amassed.

    Next year’s team will be empty. Don’t look for the Lakers to be big spenders if the right star doesn’t come aboard, in 2015 uou can pretty much do what Miami did back in 2010, and the Celtics did in 2008.

    Luol Deng is looking to be paid – but i doubt if we would break the bank of 14M annual for him. Danny Granger has lost his franchise, he might sign for 7-figures with us if promised a starting job. Finally, Rudy Gay might pass up 17M in Toronto for 13M-ish and 4 years in LA.

  16. Pardon the lateness, but the point of the previous post was to emphasize that its not that hard to land big time Free Agents on the right deal.

    This is LA.

  17. This interview segment doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Everyone knew about that and he’s just stating the obvious… There were obvious chemistry problems from day one, everyone kept waiting for Nash to get healthy and run the pick and roll with Dwight and obviously MDA had to do an adjustment on the team’s pace. Now that all that is behind us and we have a reshaped roster, what I want to know is this…

    Last year there was no Kurt Rambis to help our defense and our basic defensive schemes were bad. We certainly didn’t have the best perimeter defenders in the league, but small adjustments could’ve been made. A comparison between the Lakers defensive schemes in 2010 with Kurt Rambis and last year’s MDA “defense” are in order.

    The MDA famous SSOL offense is based on certain spacing principles and reactions by the players. Comparing to Phoenix, were the players in the proper positioning? Did the players react like they were supposed to? Did we play to our strenghts? The obvious answer is “no” and while our roster is aging, a fast paced offense can work better than a “grind it out slow it down” half court game after you consider how our roster was built. We need to take our Phil Jackson shaped glasses and look at the facts instead of focusing on the “psychological” issues mentioned in this interview.

  18. Plus, these are professional players. If the coach orders you to set the high screen on the ball handler and roll to the basket afterwards, you do it. You may not agree with the solution the coach presented to you, but you do it as hard as you can possible can. Because those other 4 guys on the court are counting on you to help them win. Same goes for the fast break. Doesn’t matter if you’re old and you won’t be able to play 38 mins at that pace. If the coach tells you run as fast as you can to increase the tempo of the game, you do it as hard as you can and don’t complain about it.

    Did MDA fail to properly motivate part of the roster? Maybe he did, but so what? It’s still their job to do what the coach says as hard as they possibly can…

  19. Renato, MDA wanted to do alot of things last season. Running along his reputation was not the fact that the Lakers did not play D, but they simply couldn’t. This is the biggest difference that I see this year despite losing Dwight in the middle.

    Last season, our horrible perimeter and transition defense was due to the simple math of Nash, Bryant and World Peace. None of these three can insulate the opponent fastbreak. Nash has never been the best insulator so thats a given, even when healthy. Kobe played defense at his convenience, due to age and his concentration on offense. World Peace had no gas. Pau was lost and confused. Dwight wasn’t healthy till the 2nd half – all too late.

    This season, the popular choice for starting 3 is Wesley Johnson. Mitch mentioned it in the interview that we had high picks that for some reason were not able to realize their potential. This is his chance given that he can be decent enough on offense to warrant his spot. He should have loads of opportunities to launch open three after open three… how he remains on the rotation is dependent on how quick he develops these instincts.

    Jordan Hill should be able to help a bit too. Even with a slow-footed Pau Gasol, Hill can atleast run. The energy of the 2 will be very helpful, especially if defense is all about will and want at times.

    When the bench hits, Jordan Farmar and Nick Young in the lineup will help in trapping. We may be giving up points the usual way (gambling on steals) but we should recuperate them with our share of offense.

    Nash and Bryant will not magically become 28 but they will have plenty of help from younger legs. That alone should improve perimeter and transition defense.

  20. Hearing Mitch’s interview at land o’ lakers its understandable why we carry up to 19 players. Boateng, Gadzuric, Johnson-Odom along with Ryan Kelly (our last 2 2nd rounders) are now invited to camp.

  21. R: Glad to amuse you : ) Thanks
    Craig W: Most superstar FAs resign with their existing teams. Mitch is stating this in his interview by implying how hard it is going to be to pry away FA from other teams. He is correct. Add to this that we are the Lakers and therefore “historically” have been an attractive destination/home. Nobody signs FAs away from the Lakers. We have the history, the lineage of great players/centers, we have the LA life and the Pacific Ocean. People want to come here. Wilt did and Shaq did. It is a place people want to be. So for typical team, it is unlikely to lose a FA. For us it is unheard of. Now – granted – DH was not a completely typical case. He was a head case and could not make up his mind. So to summarize: Most FAs stay put, LA is extremely attractive, and DH is a head case. I could see where you might say the head case part offsets the fact that LA is attractive. So then we are back to the fact that most FAs stay put. And our FO is responsible for getting this done. It was their primary post 2013 mission. They did not get it done. When Mitch says that FAs are hard to sign, and he just had his biggest one signed away from him, there is irony in that. I do not think it is silly to see that. I also do not think it is reasonable to think that the entire situation was the fault of DH and his agent and our FO is blameless.
    WWL: Yes – we are LA. We should be able to sign some decent FA. Let’s see how we do. I hold Mitch/Jim to high standards. If you made me GM (what a thought), gave me the city of LA, a huge pile of money, and a clean cap, I could sign a few free agents. I expect more from Mitch and Jim than I could do. With regard to MD, and your give him a chance comment. How long a chance? Do you have him on the bubble this year, or are you giving him through 15 no matter what happens this year?
    rr: Yes – Howard picked the best team. I agree with his decision from his standpoint. But why was it the best team? Did our coaching situation help? Did our ownership situation help? Did the chemistry/relationship with others (especially Kobe) help? Of course not (and you have made these points), and we did nothing to improve any of them – he walked and now we have to suffer the aftermath. We will be lucky to get one guy in the Howard category post 2014 (you have also made this point).
    Aaron: The NBA is talent driven and we just let a huge tower of talent walk, and only your pipedream will save us.
    History: 3 years without a trip to the Finals. This year will make 4 (bold prediction). The record is 8. Will we break the record? And if so – whose watch will that be on?

  22. Robert, I give MDA the whole year to work with parts that are either secondary or scrap. Shortly after that I would also want to see how our roster shapes up after the 2014 free agency wave is one and done – that way I could see if he is a coach given scraps and made it work, or a coach given championship pieces but failed.

  23. Off topic and semi-related: How does everyone see Pau Gasol doing this year? 24-11 w/ 2bpg?

    Strange fact, but true: He has never been a 20/10 guy his entire career.

  24. Rusty Shackleford September 26, 2013 at 8:48 am

    My hope is that behind closed doors upper management is letting D’Antoni know that, despite not having a championship caliber roster, he is still coaching for his future with the Lakers this season. The mental mistakes the team last year need to be eliminated: blowing big leads, letting games get out of hand by halftime and all of the turnovers. I can take losing, in a competitive manner, to a better team. I can’t take getting laughed off the court in Phoenix or getting blown out by Indiana in Staples so bad that the Pacers play the bench the entire 4th quarter. If they come out and underwhelm in this manner I can’t see why the Lakers front office would want to hand D’Antoni the keys to a revamped roster in 2014-2015.

    This team is really going to struggle to score the ball.

  25. Robert,

    As we have discussed, I am a firm believer in looking at results from a multi-causal POV and avoiding one-switch narratives. Howard’s gone for a lot of reasons–his own personality, the FOs’ decision to hire and keep MDA, Kobe’s personality, Daryl Morey’s smarts. Some of what happened is on Jim Buss and the rest of the FO. Some of it is just timing and luck.

    But several guys here have made a big deal about the new CBA and how it will affect the team moving forward. One of those effects, as we have already seen with Larry Sanders, Paul George, and John Wall, is that RFAs and all FAs are in an economic system that encourages staying put. So, people who have talked about the new CBA should also recognize that in that context, losing Howard could well turn out to be an unmitigated disaster. If you lose your own FA in this system it is not going to be that easy to get someone else’s.

    Basically, the Lakers have in effect lost Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, and a couple of draft picks, with no compensation. Recovering from that will be extremely difficult and will either involve some bold, unexpected talent acquisitions or a lengthy rebuild.

  26. Warren,

    I’m not talking about one-on-one defense at all. I’m talking about what are we doing when defending the high pick and roll (doubling, hard edge, switch?), what are we doing when defending the low post (showing baseline and trapping?) and what is the scheme on weakside help (are we having a PG covering the middle of the box if we trap or are we taking more chances?). This has nothing to do with the ability to guard one-on-one but has more to do with a coaches’ defensive principles regardless of who’s on court (in a vacuum, of course).

  27. The perimeter defense will almost certainly be better this year; it pretty much can’t get any worse, and Johnson and Farmar should help. Young probably won’t be any worse than Kobe was, although Young has never played much D.

    But the interior D will take a massive downturn without Howard, and Metta’s on/off numbers were actually still pretty good, in spite of his bulk and slow feet. How well the Lakers compete will depend in large part on how the players, D’Antoni, and Rambis deal with those losses.

  28. Just a quick note on FA’s leaving: RFA’s or young players seeking their first big payday rarely, if ever, leave the team who can offer the most money. George & Wall got max extensions from their teams *before* they entered free agency. No player who has not yet had their first big contract is turning down that money. This is why I always saw George and Wall, specifically, as pipe dreams for the Lakers. If their current teams offered huge paydays, they were going to take them — especially if they came before they hit RFA status.

    Second, I’m not a big fan of using Dwight Howard as any sort of litmus test for how free agents think. Over the course of his career, and especially recently, Dwight has shown that (for better or for worse) he has his own process and can be influenced by certain factors when making these types of decisions. I don’t disagree with rr that Dwight mostly made a basketball decision. But he also made a pretty big life decision and used the things that matter in *his* life to help inform him. I mean, Dwight has often spoken about “happiness” as being a big factor for him and, based off his history, I think it’s fair to say that what makes him happy is more than just winning basketball games. How much the FO, Kobe, etc, etc played into all that is an unknown. But, as stated at the top, I’m hesitant to use Dwight as a test case for other other marquee FA’s will act in the new CBA.

  29. In terms of finance it made more sense for Howard to sign in Houston than LA due to the difference in Child Support payments between California and Texas.

  30. rr: “unmitigated disaster” Nice one. You may have taken me to a new low with that.

  31. Darius,

    Not exactly sure where the litmus test phrase comes from. As you suggest, Howard will probably be an unusual case, partly in that he bailed on his current team and moved. As Kupchak himself said yesterday, he anticipates it is going to be tough to get other teams’ FAs to move.

  32. Robert,

    Well, the Lakers have effectively lost 2 of league’s top 10-15 players to conference rivals, have cap space but few draft picks and trade assets, and the team’s respected, veteran GM said yesterday that he expects it will be tough to get FAs to move.

    I will be very happy if I have read the chessboard wrong.

  33. Also, while there are many unknowns, Howard said flat-out that he asked the FO to hire Phil when Brown got fired.

  34. Speaking of no draft picks…the Lakers were really stubborn and pretty petty in my opinion with the Howard situation. Why not trade him to the Rockets like the Raptors and Cavs did with their players in ’10? Sure, a mid round late first round pick may not do a lot but for a team that really hasn’t had one in years would be great to have 2 to 3 picks. Pure spite by the Lakers FO.

  35. @Warren:

    While I think Gasol will have a better year I’m not really thinking he will hit 24 /11…The “secret” is out on Gasol and that is to put a body on him and play him like the Chuck Hayes and Kendrick Perkins of the NBA do. And with the whistle happy refs more than happy to call offensive fouls for fighting back I don’t see it happening.

    Not too many people have really brought it up, but something is wrong with Gasol’s shot. He doesn’t hit the shots the same way he used to from mid range, mid post. I don’t have the analytical numbers to support it but my eye test shows me he hasn’t shot well from the perimeter in years…Is it from his foot injuries or maybe the breakdown drills in practice didn’t emphasize where he would be in isolation situations or is it just a decline overall? I’m hoping for a revitalized Gasol ready to go.

    One advantage that Gasol had on offense not so long ago was that he could routinely rim run to the basket and consistently beat the other Center down the court. The Good Ole Days.