After the worst loss in franchise history, a 48 point drubbing at the hands of the Clippers, one of the worst regular seasons in Los Angeles Lakers history got even worse, leaving many Lakers fans calling for the firing of embattled Head Coach Mike D’Antoni. The Clippers, firmly established as the best team in LA, have now beaten the Lakers by a combined 84 points over the past two meetings. Times are tough for the Lakers fan base and based on the upcoming free agent class assistance won’t be coming until after the next offseason. A high draft choice in a deep draft may provide some excitement, but an immediate re-build like in the past likely isn’t in the cards.
With the Lakers at 21-42 the pressure is firmly on Mike D’Antoni. The former Suns and Knicks coach clearly hasn’t worked out in Los Angeles and is not the long-term answer. The amazing amount of injuries, especially in the backcourt, hasn’t helped the situation but the problems that have plagued D’Antoni in Phoenix and New York are present once again in Los Angeles. Successful NBA teams play effective defense and D’Antoni has never shown the ability to lead an effective defensive team during his time in the NBA. In the past three games, which included the drubbing at the hands of the Clippers, the Lakers gave up 132, 144, and 134 points, totals that the NBA hasn’t seen since the days of Paul Westhead using his Loyola Marymount system in Denver. High scoring games can be exciting for those watching, provided you’re not on the losing end, and the Lakers have been on the losing end in all three games.
So with D’Antoni a lame duck should the Lakers let him go? The simple answer is no. The upcoming draft is a big one and a high draft position can give the Lakers a building block for the future. Firing D’Antoni and bringing in a replacement, in the hopes that the Lakers win a handful more games, will only lessen their chance to finish high in the lottery. With the Philadelphia 76ers completely tanking, along with the Milwaukee Bucks, it benefits the Lakers to continue their slide. For a proud franchise that fact is hard to accept, but the Lakers need to maximize their ping pong balls to finish high in the draft. A top three pick may yield potential elite talents like Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins of Kansas and Jabari Parker of Duke. Combine an elite lottery talent with the potential to attract a talent like Kevin Love after the next offseason and the Lakers could potentially rebuild in a hurry.
D’Antoni is clearly a lame duck who won’t be back next season, and shouldn’t be back. His time as an NBA coach is likely over. With D’Antoni on his way out the Lakers will have an interesting decision on their hands in selecting the next head coach of the franchise. The name that popped up this past week, inevitably, was Phil Jackson who stated that he’s ready to get back into leading an organization. Jackson’s comments indicated that he’s interested in coaching again, but also the ability to build an organization ala Pat Riley in Miami. Rumors currently circulating indicate that Jackson is mulling a front office position in New York, which may make speculation moot of a potential return to LA. At 68 it’s hard to imagine Jackson wanting to take over the reins of the Lakers with another tough season potentially on the way. Other veteran names include George Karl, Jeff Van Gundy, and Stan Van Gundy. All three are proven commodities, but also at a stage in their careers that they may not want to entertain a rebuild. Perhaps the proper route for the Lakers would be hiring a young college coach, like the Celtics did with Brad Stevens, or a low profile but capable NBA assistant like Charlotte did with Steve Clifford, who happened to be a Lakers assistant last season.
The Lakers franchise has decades of goodwill in Los Angeles but another tough season is in the offing, never good for any franchise. A decent draft pick combined with a healthy Kobe Bryant and a head coach that puts a team on the floor that can compete at both ends could give the Lakers some momentum into the next off season. Even with a potential tough season coming up next year a good transition hire can go a long way toward building momentum into the 2015-2016 season. Chris Michaels