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The Extra Pass: Why D’Antoni is the right man for the job; plus Sunday’s recaps

Jan 6, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni and Dwight Howard react on the sidelines as the Lakers trail the Los Angeles Clippers, and after Howard fouled out of the game, during the second half of their NBA basketball game in Los Angeles Reuters

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You may consider this curious timing to take up for Mike D’Antoni, considering his Lakers just gave up 137 points at home to a Denver Nuggets team that can best be described as “meh.”

Believe it or not, though, pulling the wool over your eyes isn’t my intention here. Let’s be truthful: D’Antoni’s teams really are awful defensively. In 11 seasons, he’s coached an above-average defense in terms of efficiency just once. His defensive schemes aren’t ever any good, and they likely never will be.

That, understandably, doesn’t sit right with a lot of people. Rarely do below-average defensive teams make the playoffs, let alone go deep in them.

The Los Angeles Lakers, as many of their fans will be quick to remind you of, are all about hanging banners and winning rings. D’Antoni’s track record sure seems to be counter-intuitive to that.

But while we’re being honest here, let’s knock down those expectations a peg. The Lakers weren’t going to win a championship this season. Not with Steve Nash in this condition at 39 years old, not with Kobe Bryant coming off a devastating injury, not with Pau Gasol’s natural decline, and not with Dwight Howard leaving behind no reasonable way to replace his production.

No one was winning anything substantial with this roster – not even the great Phil Jackson, who surely would have a whale of a time coaching Nick Young.

That’s part of the issue with evaluating D’Antoni’s performance this season. What standards should he be held up to? Those set by past coaches and teams far more talented, or ones more in line with reality?

The Lakers have been entertaining, and not solely in just a trainwreck sort of way, as was originally anticipated. This is typically a fun brand of basketball to watch, but more importantly, it’s a style that’s hospitable to star players, Bryant included.

The Lakers move the ball. They feel empowered to take open threes. For the most part, they play pretty unselfish basketball, which is pretty much unheard of considering that nearly everyone on the roster is on an expiring contract and playing for their next job. There are defensive failures, naturally, but what did anyone reasonably expect?

From Lakers’ general manager Mitch Kupchak’s perspective, D’Antoni has probably met his expectations so far this year.

The reclamation project of Kendall Marshall has been a huge success thus far. D’Antoni has a reputation as a point guard whisperer, and maybe it was Kupchak’s confidence in D’Antoni that made giving Marshall a two-year non-guaranteed deal a high-upside play that looks like it’s going to pan out.

That may not seem significant, but it’s a big deal for the Lakers. Most of the players currently on the roster, including Gasol, will be long gone next year. Finding cheap options that can contribute to next year’s team has to be the top priority, so long as we’re going to ignore the white elephants of tanking and taxes.

At least in that sense, D’Antoni is the perfect coach for the Lakers right now. For as unimpressive as his defensive resume is, D’Antoni has a history of unearthing diamonds in the rough. His offensive system can inflate numbers, and in turn, it can inflate the trade value of the players putting up those numbers. That’s important – arguably moreso than wins are at this point.

That won’t stop the pitchforks from being raised, of course. There is a tipping point with D’Antoni that’s been reached multiple times in the past, and bad defense usually reflects worse on a coach than a hapless offense does. There’s a reason D’Antoni has been fired before, and there’s a reason it will likely happen again.

But it shouldn’t happen yet – not so long as D’Antoni is helping to improve the Lakers’ future, one way or another.

-D.J. Foster

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This was the best video of the night — watch J.R. Smith on the left of the screen untie Shawn Marion‘s shoe during Dirk Nowitzki‘s free throw attempt. Marion plays the entire next possession that way before getting to tie his shoe.

The question on twitter after this… (keep reading)

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Grizzlies 112, Pistons 84: This game was close for the first half (Detroit led by 5 at the break and got good play from their bigs) then the Grizzlies won the second half 61-28 as the Pistons shot just 30.8 percent in the second half and were 1-of-9 from three. The last 24 minutes were everything you feared about the Pistons — Josh Smith taking bad jumpers, Brandon Jennings was 0-of-7, and they didn’t defend. Jon Lauer came off the bench to lead the Grizzlies with 23 points, and a rare shout out this season to Ed Davis (not a good fit in the Grizzlies system most nights) who had 13 points in the fourth quarter to keep this a blow out.

Pacers 82, Cavaliers 78: It wasn’t pretty. To use the Rasheed Wallace classic, both teams played hard. But it wasn’t pretty. This was the kind of game you expect the Pacers to win in the postseason (well, except for the for the lack of crowd noise) — it was a grind-it-out win. They defended and held the Cavaliers to 34.2 percent shooting, or an offensive rating or 89.6 points per 100 possessions. Indiana just couldn’t shoot. Paul George led the Pacers with 16 points on 4-of-10 shooting, while Roy Hibbert had 15 points (on 12 shots).

Heat 102, Raptors 97: Moral victories suck, but Toronto should take this as one — they looked like the third best team in the East right now (which they are) and led entering the fourth quarter. Jonas Valanciunas had 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting and outplayed Chris Bosh for most of the night. DeMar DeRozan looked like an All-Star with 26 points and 7 assists, but he wore down in the fourth. That’s when LeBron James played like the LeBron James you expect — 10 of his 30 points came in the fourth quarter. Once again Beasley was key with 17 points off the bench, he’s becoming a real weapon.

Warriors 112, Wizards 96: Make that nine wins in a row for Golden State, the last five on the road. This one was tied at the half, but the Wizards have had some rough third quarters recently and the Warriors took advantage this time. Golden State started the second half on a 19-3 run and they led comfortably the rest of the way, shooting 50.3 percent on the night. The Warriors were led by 26 points from Klay Thompson, while David Lee had 21 points and 11 boards (10 of his points came in the key third quarter). John Wall had a strong first half but wasn’t a factor in the second and finished with 14 points (tied for most on the Wizards) on 11 shots.

Thunder 119, Celtics 96: It was the second night of a back-to-back after a tough game against Minnesota, yet this was the best the Thunder have looked in a week. You can thank Reggie Jackson for that, as he had a career high 27 points and played with a lot of confidence from the start (he opened the game 4-of-4 shooting). He seems to be growing into the role of starter with Russell Westbrook out. Boston got 19 a piece from Avery Bradley and Jeff Green, but this one was never close. Kevin Durant had 21 and never got off the bench in the fourth quarter.

Knicks 92, Mavericks 80: Dirk Nowitzki was right, Dallas didn’t look like a playoff team in this game. They looked flat. Even without an ill Tyson Chandler New York took the lead with a 21-5 run in the first quarter and held that the rest of the way, fighting back each Mavericks’ run. While Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 19 points it was the seven points late in the fourth quarter from Iman Shumpert that sealed the win the win. Dallas got 18 out of Nowitzki but the team scored just 35 points in the first half and seemed uninspired.

Nuggets 137, Lakers 115: Fast paced, high scoring, this was a little bit of a throwback to a 1985 Lakers/Nuggets game. Except much more sloppy. Denver took control of this game in the third quarter with a 17-2 run sparked by Ty Lawson (20 points on the night) and they got strong play off the bench with from Timofey Mozgov (who also had 20). Brian Shaw needs to play Mozgov and Kenneth Faried together more. On the other side, the Lakers continue to get good play out of Kendall Marshall — he had 17 assists and when he sat the Lakers offense loses all structure.

—Kurt Helin

  1. bucrightoff - Jan 6, 2014 at 8:12 AM

    We wholeheartedly agree he’s the best man for the job

    - signed the rest of the Western Conference.

  2. aboogy123456 - Jan 6, 2014 at 8:28 AM

    Great article about D’Antoni. I know the lakers don’t have a chance to go far this year, so I think this season is all about playing good basketball and seeing some potential role players to make the roster next year. With guys like young, marshall, and henry stepping up and playing good team ball, I like what I’m seeing.They have definitely exceeded my expectations and are playing very well with the limited talent they have, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they do this summer.

  3. davidly - Jan 6, 2014 at 9:07 AM

    Excellent argument for this season. But unless Mitch & the boys felt this way at the five game point last season, you can’t give ‘em much credit for it.

    Regarding realistic expectations, you could apply those listed in the paragraph above to last season, with the following amendments: The Lakers weren’t going to win a championship last season. Not with Steve Nash in that at 38 years old, not with Kobe Bryant having a great year, not with Pau Gasol’s natural decline, and not with Dwight Howard coming off of serious back surgery.

  4. stayhigh_247 - Jan 6, 2014 at 11:10 AM

    Whatever, i’d take Stan Vangundy over Damphony any day. And to be clear, if Phil was coaching this team, there is no way Nick Young would be a Laker. I think Vangundy could put a better product on the floor with the same pieces. George Carl anyone? There’s options out here, which suggests to anybody with eyeballs that the Lakers are in tank mode.

    • therealhtj - Jan 6, 2014 at 11:17 AM

      D’Antoni was a horrible hire from the get-go, but Naismith couldn’t do squat with this injury-plagued roster. He’s the perfect coach for tanking and despite misinformed protestations to the contrary, that’s what they’re doing.

  5. csbanter - Jan 6, 2014 at 11:32 AM

    This author may be the only person in the United States that believes D’Antoni is the right man for the Lakers. D’Antoni is living off of being a runner up in the western conference, when Steve Nash had game, when Shawn Marion was the Matrix, and when Amare Stoudemire didn’t have any minutes restriction. This story has no place on the board this Monday.

  6. asimonetti88 - Jan 6, 2014 at 12:29 PM

    D’Antoni is the right man for the job, unfortunately, that job is missing the playoffs while still being fun to watch. Once the job becomes winning, and winning deep in the playoffs, he will no longer be the right man for the job.

    • danfrommv - Jan 6, 2014 at 3:16 PM

      Yes, and equally unfortunately is with all of the trades the Lakers made to have one more run as a contender (two 1st round, two second round for Steve Nash, one first round for DH12, one second round for Ramon Sessions), the draft cupboard is bare until 2018. So D’Antoni will be fired in 2020 when the Lakers finally have a real roster again.

      • asimonetti88 - Jan 6, 2014 at 10:47 PM

        The Lakers have their picks this year and in 2016. They gave up their 2015 first rounder (although it is top 5 protected) and 2017 first rounder (also top 5 protected). You are not allowed to trade your first round draft pick in consecutive years. This is thanks to former Cavaliers owner Ted Stepien.

  7. 32magicman - Jan 6, 2014 at 4:03 PM

    The way this franchise has treated gasol over the years is shameful. And this coach has completely under utilised him.

  8. dinofrank60 - Jan 6, 2014 at 7:30 PM

    The right man for this job is in Minnesota, coaching the T-Wolves…

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