Days earlier, when on a cruise somewhere off the coast of Puerto Rico, I was playing on the slot machines in the ship’s casino when someone approached me, “What’s this I’ve just seen on ESPN? Something about Brown being fired?”
I was shocked. Surely the Lakers hadn’t given up on coach Brown just a few games into the season? Being at sea and away from land, I was out of touch with the latest news. The last game I’d viewed was on the Friday night, a loss to the Clippers, despite Kobe putting up 40.
A Jamaican employee of the cruise line saw me sat there, on my own, watching the Lakers lose – something I would become accustomed to as the season progressed.
“Tough start for the Lakers, man,” he said to me as he paused to watch the purple and gold’s crosstown rivals get vengeance on a team that has embarrassed them for years, “Kobe’s my boy, though. They’ll get it together.”
I agreed with him. How could a team with this much talent not get it together?
Then, just days later, I found myself rushing across a casino floor to get to a screen at the bar that was showing ESPN.
“Mike Brown fired after starting the season 1-4,” the ticker at the bottom of the screen read.
I literally ran to my cabin and switched on ESPN. There was talk of the Lakers’ poor start – something I was avoiding, as I was going to catch up on the games once back without knowing the results, but that proved to be somewhat difficult – and that Phil Jackson was an option.
Wow. I’m off the coast of Puerto Rico. In the casino. News flash on the TV on ESPN. Mike Brown gone?
— Lakerholicz (@Lakerholicz) November 10, 2012
Phil Jackson?! I could hardly believe it. I was sad for Brown and the struggles so far, but a return for Phil? I was all for it. I wanted Kobe and Jackson to go to war again and compete for championships. Over the past year, I had accepted that Phil had retired, but with the news he could be back, I wanted nothing else. I was clinging to the past, but I didn’t care. There was a chance to experience a little more of Phil’s brilliance, both on and off the court.
Over the next few days, I heard Phil was meeting with Jim Buss. I heard they were talking things over. I heard there was an offer on the table. It was all lining up to be an exciting return home for me.
I followed the story as closely as possible as the cruise ship navigated its way back to Florida from the Caribbean: little did I know I was leaving tropical paradise only to later return to basketball hell.
That’s why I was somewhat shocked to read the words, “Lakers pass on Jackson, hire Mike D’Antoni,” at the bottom of the screen while I received my room keys in South Beach.
Jackson apparently had too many demands and wanted too much control. The Lakers went with D’Antoni because he best fit the roster: they had the best pick-and-roll players in the league in Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. They also had a couple of shooters. It looked great on paper.
Jerry Buss wanted to return to something close to Showtime, and Mike D’Antoni seemed like the best guy to do that with.
I could live with that. I wanted Jackson, but I could live with the hiring of D’Antoni more than over a guy like Mike Dunleavy, another coach the Lakers apparently contacted.
I went about my business in Miami and got ready to return home to some up-tempo, exciting basketball.
It never happened.
Fast forward past a plethora of losses, and over two months later, the Lakers are sitting at the 12th spot in the Western Conference with a record of 17-24. They’ve lost six straight games on the road. They only have two wins in 2013.
What went wrong? Well, everything we envisioned never came to fruition: we’re not seeing Nash and Dwight connect on a handful of alley-oops a night. We’re not seeing the ball skipping around the court, “finding energy” and the open man. We’re not seeing an inspired team play basketball.
Some of that can be put down to health and some can be put down to chemistry. But a lot of it is down to effort. These guys don’t want to win badly enough.
Is D’Antoni the problem? He deserves some of the blame, yes, but the players deserve it more. D’Antoni’s system works when they’re actually running it correctly. The ball can’t stick; when it does, it doesn’t work.
The system worked in Phoenix. It worked in New York, at least with Jeremy Lin running the show it did. Then Carmelo returned and the ball began to stick again: and the Knicks began to lose.
For whatever reason, Anthony lost faith in D’Antoni’s system and the same is happening now in Los Angeles.
“Obviously, this isn’t working,” Bryant told Yahoo! Sports in the early hours of this morning.
“We need to go back to basics,” Bryant said. “We need to put guys in positions to do what they do best. We need to strip it down. Steve is best in pick-and-roll. Pau is best in the post. I’m best from the free-throw line extended down. Let’s go back to basics.
The translation for “back to basics” is “scrap the system” – and that’s from a guy who gushed over D’Antoni after he was hired.
Pau Gasol has long had problems with the head coach, with the last straw possibly coming last night when D’Antoni stated that the Spaniard would be a “permanent” bench player.
How does Kobe feel about the move? The Yahoo! piece states that “Bryant responded with a long, telling silence and smirk.”
How about Dwight Howard? Does D’Antoni’s system still have his support? Yes it does, if you consider a star big man who “grumbled privately in the locker room over the truths on the stat sheet” a good sign. Which, by the way, it isn’t.
The head coach is losing the locker room. Steve Nash will defend his guy D’Antoni until the day he dies, but even he must be considering how the team can change up their play and translate it into wins.
Aside from the talent on the court, the frustrating thing is that the Lakers have a wealth of basketball knowledge between them. From experienced coaches in D’Antoni to Eddie Jordan to Bernie Bickerstaff on the bench, and great basketball minds like Kobe, Nash and Pau on the floor, there’s no shortage of hoops IQ in Los Angeles.
Could it be a case of too many cooks in the kitchen? Possibly, but these guys are professionals and should be able to bounce ideas off of each other. They should be able to work this out. The pieces are all there: the ingredients are all there, they just need to work out how to put all the parts together so it tastes nice. Right now, the taste is bitter.
A few parts Kobe, one part Gasol, three parts Howard, two parts Nash with a sprinkling of World Peace. There’s a recipe for success in there somewhere, they’ve just got to figure out what it is. And fast.
We’re already at the half way point of the season. I don’t think uprooting D’Antoni is going to solve much at this point – that’d only mean another coach coming to town, another learning curve and possibly, another wasted $10 million or so for the Lakers.
Do they need to make a trade? Maybe. Young legs would go a long way at this point, but can they get them? Gasol is their only real trade chip, and his value is at an all-time low.
The real solution is for everybody to be held accountable. Kobe has been doing it: he’s started to point out his poor shooting. Now, it’s time for D’Antoni to say he was wrong about reducing post-ups, it’s time for Gasol to stop complaining about touches and just play and it’s time for Howard to go hard out there every night and take some responsibility.
I don’t want to be hearing about the lack of touches or no help on defense. I want to see you as an individual doing all you can to win. When you’re meant to be one of the best players in the world, you don’t need to be spoon fed the ball. You don’t need plays to be run for you every possession: just go and make things happen – take a page out of Earl Clark‘s book and actually try.
These Lakers have a lot of problems, but they like to blame each other instead of being a man and putting the blame on themselves.
The truth is, there’s no time left for blaming others. It’s time to find out a way to play together and just gets wins: that means everybody from the top to the bottom is going to have to adjust and work it out. They’re going to have to put their pride to one side in order to turn this thing around.
The Lakers’ championship cruise has hit some extremely rough waters – right now, they’re struggling to even make it back to port and into a playoff berth – but, can they right the ship and avoid one of the most disappointing seasons ever in all of sports?
Right now, they have no choice.