LOS ANGELES – Three games down, probably one more to go until the Lakers play their first game under new head coach Mike D’Antoni. In those three games under interim head man Bernie Bickerstaff, the Lakers saw their record drop to 2-1, losing to San Antonio Tuesday night at Staples Center, 84-82 on a three pointer by the Spurs’ Danny Green with 9.3 seconds left in the game.
L.A. had a chance for the win, but Pau Gasol missed a three-point attempt and Tiago Splitter of the Spurs secured the rebound and prevented the Lakers from a put-back to tie it up. San Antonio improves to 7-1 while the Lakers fall to 3-5.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Lakers’ game if there wasn’t some sort of bizarro moments—such as having a pair of three pointers reduced to two points when Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace were ruled to be inside the arc when attempting their shots. Did I mention the Lakers lost by two points?
Even though the Lakers scored just 82 points and committed another 17 turnovers whice resulted in 12 points for the Spurs, it was the third-consecutive game in which they actually looked like a basketball team on the same page. Movement was crisper and more consistent and the defense was better as they held San Antonio to 38.9 percent shooting while out-rebounding them, 48-38. Gasol said that despite the loss, the team is definitely moving in the right direction.
“We’re not discouraged by the situation,” said Gasol, who finished with a double-double of 10 points and 10 boards. He also admitted he wasn’t the first option on the potential game-winning shot. Bryant, who finished with a game-high 24 points and 8 assists, was supposed to get the ball but the Spurs defense denied him, forcing Gasol to hoist it up from well outside his comfort area.
“It wasn’t supposed to go that way,” he said. “We’re looking forward to a new coach stepping in and getting us going. Hopefully I’ll be a little closer to the basket the next time.”
Bickerstaff will likely be in charge again for Friday night’s home game against one of D’Antoni’s former teams, the Phoenix Suns. D’Antoni is supposed to arrive in Los Angeles sometime Wednesday, and is expected to meet with his new players. Reports are also circulating that their will be a news conference with D’Antoni on Thursday, but nothing has been announced by the Lakers’ public relations department.
THEY SAID IT: “I was discouraged that we lost, but I was happy with our effort. We’re going to have to come up with those possessions—especially late in the game. We’ve got to do a better job.” -Lakers’ center Dwight Howard on not getting the rebound that could have led too a game-tying shot attempt.
“No, it’s not frustrating at all. We just wait. And to a man, everybody is excited to get to work.” -Bryant on the anticipation of D’Antoni’s arrival.
“I’m going to do everything I can to win a championship. If we’re not at least in the hunt, a serious hunt, then I’ve failed as a head coach. I’m comfortable with that.” -D’Antoni on a Los Angeles radio station talking about the high expectations that come with his new job.
THREE THOUGHTS: Mike D’Antoni was the perfect hire for this Laker team heading into the future. His up-tempo style and sharp ball movement should wake this team out of its offensive doldrums. But it’s the fact that his offense can be tailored to each player on the floor which should work very well with such a talented team—especially the starting five. There will be running, pick and rolls, open shots and a player won’t have to struggle with what he should do. If a player has a shot—his shot—he’s expected to take it. And the scheme will endeavor to put him in the right place and situation. If not, he passes to another teammate who goes by the same philosophy. Players who aren’t proficient from long distance won’t be expected to take three pointers. Players who are good shooters will take the shots. And with Steve Nash running this type of basketball, you can be sure he’ll get the ball to the players in spots on the floor or win the fast break lanes.
Mike Brown’s offense was not the right one to fully utilize the massive skills of Howard underneath the basket. The more touches he gets, the better the offense will be. And to make him the focal point of the offense at certain times will also serve to keep him happy—which is one of the reasons the move was made to detach Brown and bring D’Antoni in to run things. Signing Howard following the season will be one of the most important free agent deals in Laker history—certainly since they convinced Shaquille O’Neal to leave Orlando and move to L.A. in 1996. And there’s no way he was going to stay with a team that runs a plodding offense that isn’t fun to play.
Many members of the media—locally and nationally—have pummeled the Buss family and Mitch Kupchak for choosing D’Antoni over the legendary Phil Jackson. I, for one, think it was a great move and a progressive move. Nostalgia and sentimentality don’t win titles in any sport. Jackson’s time to coach the Lakers has come and gone, and he made the most of it by helping to win five titles. But his system is complicated and too time consuming to learn without a training camp. With Howard’s free agency looming and a team that would like to get him a ring to influence his ultimate decision, that could have been a death knell. And even one of Jackson’s biggest supporters, Kobe, didn’t seem the too upset when D’Antoni was hired, calling the new coach an offensive genius.
Then there’s the ridiculous blathering from some Los Angeles media about the Laker management disrespecting Jackson with the way they told him he wasn’t getting the job. What a bunch of nonsense. They chose D’Antoni and they told Jax he didn’t get the job. Move on with life, folks. Instead, Jackson sycophants began railing against the Buss’ family and Kupchak. Jackson himself categorized the way it was handled as “slimy.” And if you want to talk about disrespect, how about the way Jackson bailed on the Lakers TWICE—following the 2004 and 2011 seasons – when he didn’t feel they could win titles anymore? Instead of sticking around and seeing if he could smooth things out with Shaq and Kobe and Shaq and Jerry Buss and maybe get Karl Malone to return for another shot at a ring, he fled the scene. He returned a year later after the “disrespectful” Buss family made him the highest-paid coach in the history of any American professional sport. He had a number of years where he earned anywhere from $12-15 million coaching the Lakers. I wish someone would disrespect me like that.
In my opinion, Jerry Buss is the greatest owner in the history of professional sports—10 world championships in 33 years and always making sure the fans have a winning product to support. He hasn’t been wrong very often. And he’s never belittled Jackson in public the way Jackson belittled him. If Jerry Buss feels like D’Antoni is the right man for this Laker team, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. He’s earned it. And Jackson never earned the right to another shot at the best job he’s ever going to have. When the going gets tough, Jackson gets going. In a hurry.