Mike D’Antoni came in like a thief in the night. Or at least that’s how he was perceived by most Lakers fans.
They wanted Phil Jackson. He was presumably on his way, using the weekend to think about a job he may have returned to.
Before the clock could strike midnight, it was D’Antoni who was being tabbed as the next Lakers coach. By no fault of his own, he had already lost the popularity contest.
Ultimately, that’s a battle he no longer has to fight, with the team announcing his resignation Wednesday and the team’s search for his successor to begin immediately.
"Given the circumstances, I don’t know that anybody could have done a better job than Mike did the past two seasons," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said in a statement. "On behalf of the Lakers, we thank Mike for the work ethic, professionalism and positive attitude that he brought to the team every day. We wish him the best of luck."
D’Antoni, who had a .435 winning percentage during his two seasons as Lakers head coach after taking over for Mike Brown, who was fired just five games into the 2012-13 season, had two more seasons left on his contract — next season fully guaranteed and a club option for 2014-15.
Last season, his first full year with the Lakers, was the worst the franchise has ever experienced, losing a club record 55 games.
Against unspeakable odds, perceived to be Jackson’s replacement although it was Brown’s seat he actually replaced, D’Antoni could win to try to get in the good graces of the city but had a hard time doing so.
Trying to appease then-free agent to be Dwight Howard, D’Antoni couldn’t completely be himself as a coach.
The problem with who D’Antoni is as a coach and why it didn’t mesh with the Lakers is simple. His philosophy conflicts with Lakers history. He took over a club of giants — remarkable, historical, giants.
In the land of Wilt, Kareem, and Shaq, how could the Lakers head coach not believe in the post up as a viable option for big men?
D’Antoni didn’t. That didn’t help his cause. While not being the coach he is and appeasing Howard, he didn’t hold back when dealing with Pau Gasol. D’Antoni and the two-time NBA champion fell out of favor, quickly.
Gasol wanted the ball on the block. D’Antoni didn’t think that was best. The two eventually came to a happy medium but the damage was done.
All of this came before the inordinate amount of injuries during his tenure. When D’Antoni walked through the door, Steve Nash was already hobbled. Kobe Bryant, who’s played through just about every injury imaginable, succumbed to one he couldn’t play through, tearing his Achilles last April.
Multiple players on one-year contracts came in for the 2013-14 season.
After returning for six games, Bryant re-injured himself. Nash’s health wouldn’t cooperate as he played in just 15. And the injuries mounted to a tune of 319 games missed by Lakers players due to injury alone in the 2013-14 season.
So where do the Lakers turn?
Magic: ‘Couldn’t be happier’ that D’Antoni no longer Lakers coach
Bryon Scott? A hiring of the three-time NBA champion keeps it in the Lakers family. He has the respect of Bryant but Riley-esque tendencies have been known to wear on players. The recently retired Rick Adelman was runner-up when the team decided to hire Brown in 2011.
Nate McMillian is on the Pacers bench and could be available sooner rather than later.
In the college ranks, there’s Mike Krzyzewski who was once a front runner to be the Lakers coach last decade but is sitting pretty as the highest paid coach in American sports, according to reports.
And then, of course, there’s John Calipari, who on the night he was going for his second national title in three years at Kentucky had to deal with questions that he was, indeed, going to be the next Lakers coach thanks to a tweet sent out by former Kentucky great Rex Chapman. Remember, done deal?