The slow-rolling train wreck known as the Lakers strolled into Quicken Loans arena last night humming Bobby McFerrin tunes (young people ask the old people) and got embarrassed. At the core of the issue is the second-best syndrome, as in the fact that most of the players and fans wanted Phil Jackson and it didn’t happen. To make matters worse, Mike D’Antoni is about a month of bad play and an eventual early playoff exit from putting the final touches on his coaching headstone:
Did not change his ways
He had been given a pass for his act in Phoenix and Madison Square Garden, at least to a certain degree, but he has spent all of his capital trying to mold the Lakers into a running ballclub. They’re simply not that, and I don’t fault D’Antoni for trying to get them to play his way on offense but the jig is up. Ironically, the name that was toxic last week, Pau Gasol, is now the one being brought up by everybody from Magic Johnson to guys like me as a potential solution to the team’s problems. It just makes sense that arguably the league’s most skilled big man to start handling the highest percentage of the team’s inside possessions. Of course defense is the team's larger issue, but the rotations are deployed with the offense in mind and the lack of offensive effectiveness is a big driver of defensive energy.
Frankly, the timing of Pau’s knee issues was just way too convenient for me to completely discount internal funny business in L.A. Not only could they give him some much-needed rest, but they could also be a way to explain away some of his bad play and also give the team a best-case opportunity to try D’Antoni’s approach. After all, you can’t run seven seconds or less with two lumbering centers and you might not even be able to do it with one, so inserting Antawn Jamison into a prominent role made too much sense if you’re Mike D and the early returns were great.
If you’re Jim Buss and you wanted the team to have a distinctly D’Antoni flavor, Showtime Part Deux if you will, or anything that might cover the whiff of Phil in the air every night – you might give the new coach the run of the land. You hope that the team starts winning and your trademark decision was at the root of it. As a nice side pot maybe you can trade the expensive big man, which is an exercise in reverse psychology for both fans and opposing teams. Tell the local fans and media that Pau is breaking down, the source of all of the team’s problems, and they will support sending him out of town. Tell teams that you’re getting rid of Pau at a discount -- to work a deal that will get him off the books and reshape the roster to be a run-and-gun unit -- and opposing GMs will wonder if they're buying low.
There’s only one problem. The experiment didn’t work. D’Antoni is losing his cool at press conferences, Kobe looks like he wants to kill somebody, and Dwight Howard looks like a sad clown pedaling around the court on an undersized tricycle.
It shouldn’t be surprising that D’Antoni has been a disaster so far since he was setup to fail from the beginning, and it shouldn’t be surprising that he stuck to his philosophy. But the wagons have circled in Los Angeles and everybody from Flea to ESPN and every general format media outlet is going to rail on this. They’ve got D’Antoni in their sights and he will have to take the ultimate leap of faith – one that will cost him his job if he can’t turn things around – or he’ll have to come to grips with the fact his roster is old and cannot run.
We’ve seen signs, as D’Antoni has already said that Pau will return to the starting lineup when he is healthy, and a national TV game on Thursday in the Mecca of Basketball, where D’Antoni was fired* just last season – that makes for high drama and it wouldn’t be the worst time to trot out the Spaniard.
And incidentally, it makes for a somewhat risky, but high-upside chance to buy low on a guy that owners were fleeing from just a week ago.
*Writer's Note: Thank you to the commenter that pointed out that he was not fired. He was told it's my way or the highway by everybody that matters in New York, and then tendered his resignation.
For real-time news and information you can click here to follow me on Twitter.
With the team reeling, Kobe Bryant has done what Kobe does which is taking as much control of the offense as he can. He made more field goals last night (16) than his teammates combined (15), finishing with a season-high 42 points with five rebounds, two assists, one steal, and one block. His defense has left a lot to be desired at times even if it’s still better than average, and the reality Lakers need him to get his teammates better shots.
He just doesn’t trust them right now and it’s hard to blame him, as none of the group of Howard (19 & 20 with no blocks and 13-of-22 FTs), Chris Duhon (1-of-2 FGs, two points), Metta World Peace (13 points, 5-of-12 FGs, nine boards, one steal, one block, two threes), and Antawn Jamison (nine points, 3-of-10 FGs, one rebound, two steals, one three, 29 minutes) are plus offensive players.
Still, we’ve seen this show a million times and it never really works for the Lakers, and it’s another reason for both Pau and Steve Nash to shoulder some of that workload. I used to believe that the uptempo offense might offset any losses Kobe would have when Nash returned, but the Lakers look worse running the ball than I thought they would. Betting against Kobe would seem sacrilegious to many, and I’ve been burned before, but if I could swing a deal of Kobe for Chris Paul or James Harden I’d probably do it.
Jordan Hill (two points, 10 boards, one steal, one block) started at power forward instead of Jamison and has just spot-start appeal until Pau returns. World Peace owners should generally whether any storm he goes through and Jamison’s owners won’t want to pass up any above average free agents. If the wire is bare, consider holding for one more game to see if he can recreate his productive bench role in a less dysfunctional environment if the Lakers improve.
Kyrie Irving had a signature game in last night’s win over the reeling Lakers, which just happened to coincide with his return from an 11-game absence due to a broken finger. He was filthy at times and his presence in Cleveland will ensure that they are an exciting team for years to come. Irving scored 28 points on 11-of-21 shooting with four threes, six boards, and a season-high 11 assists, while backup Jeremy Pargo returned to irrelevance with just one rebound, one assist, and one block in 10 minutes off the bench.
With Daniel Gibson leaving the game with yet another elbow issue, it’s well past time to view him as damaged goods and this leaves C.J. Miles as the last man standing on the wings with Dion Waiters (ankle) out. Miles came through with one of his patented out-of-nowhere explosions, scoring 28 points on 10-of-18 shooting (including five threes) with five rebounds, one steal, and one block. The flaws in his game have been a lack of aggression on offense, shot selection, and porous defense. With Irving back in the lineup, it’s possible the more coherent Cavs approach could free up Miles to produce when there are no other options for Byron Scott to turn to. Consider Miles a risky short-term pickup with some good upside while Waiters is out.
Waiters is dealing with a bone bruise and owners should always reserve judgment on those despite the media undertone that these aren’t serious issues. He is “unlikely” to travel with the team for tonight’s game in Indiana, so owners should continue to consider him out indefinitely until there is an actual positive report. Tristan Thompson (one point, 10 boards, no steals or blocks) just isn’t any good and I’m not holding my breath for that to change. Tyler Zeller scored six points with six boards, three assists, and two steals in 27 minutes, which piques the interest but doesn’t put fannies in the fantasy seats.