Mohamed Mohamed examines the problems at the LA Lakers and how they are defying pre-season expectations in a wholly negative way.
After watching this team intently since the ending of the 2010-2011 season, I can pretty much say the Lakers are in a precarious situation with complete confidence.
On the surface, you’d look at their roster and say “well they’ve got Nash, Kobe, Dwight and Pau; how can any team be in a crossroads?” That’s where you're wrong.
On the surface, the roster is top heavy, like a lot of rosters are these days in today’s era of super-teams.
When Mike D’Antoni has to summon someone from his bench, he gets the same look Phillip Banks had whenever he saw Hillary’s credit card bill on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. If you haven’t paid attention to his team, you wouldn’t think that D’Antoni is the problem.
That’s where you're wrong again. He is the problem and will continue to be.
Before I go into anything concerning his anemic Lakers stint, let me just say that Mike D’Antoni has been a great coach in this league. He has, he just hasn’t been it with this team. In many ways, he’s been put in a position to fail and fail miserably.
I mean, this is the same guy who nearly got the Suns to the '06 Finals with a battered up roster that included Tim Thomas playing crunch time minutes. Whenever the words “Tim Thomas” and “Crunch Time Mins” are in the same sentence, you’ve done well as a coach.
His stomping after a distasteful call has never been replicated, and the unintentional comedy of him looking like the Pringles logo has never stopped being funny.
Unfortunately, somebody has to take the runt of it and it’ll be Mike. Don’t be shocked if it happens before next season. Remember, this is the same team who gave Mike Brown five games into the regular season before they axed him (although the Kobe stare was probably his highlight as a coach, both in Cleveland and in LA).
I can’t express to you the depression Lakers fans have towards this team.
Remember the last time the Lakers had a supposed super-team in 2004? Look how that turned out, and I didn’t mention that 04 team still got to the NBA Finals and were maybe even a Karl Malone injury away from possibly winning the title and immediately become the most dysfunctional title winning team in NBA History.
So you’re wondering why I care so much about a team as storied as any other. Here’s why I care.
There’s a decent possibility that Dwight Howard might skip town if this season goes as scheduled. I don’t want it to happen because D12’s don’t come around too often. The sad thing on this Lakers team is that the current iteration of D12 is still their best defender. He’s not 100%. He’s the not the defensive presence he was in Orlando. Hell, he’s not even the same “presence commanding” player he was in Orlando.
When you went into an arena, you felt his presence. You thought to yourself “dear god, this guy was meant to play basketball”. Now when you watch him, you see it, but not in a consistent basis.
And that’s just scratching the surface. If you’ve read reports concerning Dwight and Kobe’s relationship, it’s not going well. To be fair, I don’t know how many people expected this experiment to go without a hitch if you’ve seen Kobe’s track mark as a teammate.
It also doesn’t help when they tried to squash the rumor by posting a picture of them on twitter pretending to box each other with Mike in the middle of it.
On the court...
Any ways, we’re getting distracted from the real point of the column which is the fact that this team is a complete mess. It truly is. Let’s start with the product on the court shall we?
The Lakers perimeter D might just be the worst when it comes to the contending/fringe/playoff teams in the NBA. Steve Nash is a below average defender (this just in).
Kobe when he wants to can still be a solid one on one defender (a phrase that’s probably been true since 2009) and yet also doubles as a guy with the reputation of not trailing back on transition defense, lacking attention and effort in off the ball defense, and more importantly doesn’t even guard a threatening scorer anymore.
I’ve watched nearly every Laker game this season, and every time you watch Kobe, you’ll always see him guarding a below average “hider”.
Artest (yes, I still call him that) is still a solid individual defender, but at this point of his career, it’s too much to ask of him to always guard the best perimeter player on the opposition (yet another reason why Kobe’s selection to the All-Defensive team’s the last few yrs were ludicrous).
For instance, Tuesday’s night’s loss against the Rockets exemplifies the whole situation that the Lakers symbolize. With Dwight out with a torn Labrum in his shoulder, Jordan Hill (has secretly become my favorite player on this team) out with a sprain ankle, and Pau being out with a concussion, this Lakers team was starting Robert Sacre and Antawn Jamison at the 4-5 position.
Now getting past the whole “anytime you can start Sacre and Jamison at the 4-5 position, you have to do it”, the Lakers had only 9 guys available for the game and somehow got all of them on the court during the first quarter. I swear to god that actually happened. While Mike was switching his power play/penalty killing lines, Mike thought it was a great idea to trot out the lineup of Jamison/Sacre/Duhon/Meeks/Morris.
On a scale of “kind of depressing” to “put a gun in my month” It was gun territory. Mike also thought it was a great idea to run on every opportunity against the most efficient fast break squad in the NBA. I don’t want to sound condescending, but why the hell would you run against a team you should not try to run with at all cost?
Back to Mike D'Antoni...
Now look, I’m not a coach. My dad who follows the NBA isn’t a coach, so we don’t profess to know the ins and out of coaching an NBA team, how to deal with stubborn ego’s, their women and much more; but we can tell when a coach can’t coach. Sadly, Mike doesn’t pass the eye test.
He’s getting ripped apart on twitter; he’s getting ripped apart by beat reporters, by the National Media right now. As a Lakers fan right now, this is the lowest moment as a fan since 07. (Which by the way was the same season that Kobe bitched and nearly got himself shipped to Chicago if it wasn’t for the Bulls Brass refusal to include Deng on the offer. )
So how am I so sure that Mike has been an abject failure as a coach? Just look at the following:
The Lakers right now as we stand are tied for 28th in the league in turnovers. For a team as defensively inept as the team is, you don’t turn the ball over with this amount of frequency
2. Opposing 3-point/Field Goal percentage:
This category is basically self explanatory. Basically, when you’re giving up open looks at the basket/ three point line; you’re generally going to suck defensively. The Lakers right now are 18th in both categories and from watching this team as closely as I have, that’s a real generous ranking.
3. Points Per Game:
Now in recent years, this stat has been devalued in place for things like Defensive Efficiency, Pace, etc… That being said, when you’re tied for 27th in PPG, that’s something to think about.
4. Wacky rotations/stupidity:
It’s the little things that make this Lakers team a downright catastrophe. Take for instance Wednesday night’s game in San Antonio. Antawn Jamison, a guy who’s been washed up for the last 4-5 years getting more minutes than Earl Clark, who was having the game of his life. Earl Clark, the same guy who was just thrown in to the Dwight Howard trade was the best player on the Lakers Wednesday night. The guy was 9-12 from the field, 22 points, 13 rebounds and it was his energy that got the gm going. Yet somehow, Jamison played more mins than Earl Clark. What????
Those 4 categories should distinguish good coaching from bad coaching, and sadly Mike has failed in all of them. Again it’s sad because he’s been given a roster that doesn’t mesh to his philosophy of basketball.
He’s never had a roster that featured two low post presences in D12/Gasol. When Pau was healthy, he tried to use Pau as a stretch 4 even though he’s basically said a few weeks ago quote unquote “stick my ass in the post and let me do Pau Gasol things”. When everything was working in Phoenix, he had a younger Nash, Shawn Kemp 2.0 in Amare, a lanky Swiss army knife player, one of the best heels in the business in Raja Bell, and arguably the best bench in basketball. Look what he has now?
So what should the Lakers do? I don’t know. I’ll tell you this though; I’m about one more 5-7 game losing streak away from taking up drinking soon.
Somebody hand me some bourbon please.
image: © Keith Allison