EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Mike D’Antoni knew he wasn’t stepping into a perfect situation when he took over the Lakers’ head coaching job on Nov. 12, replacing Mike Brown.
“I didn’t get (hired) because everything was going great here.” D’Antoni said early Monday afternoon following practice, a day after Kobe Bryant was critical of his teammates, particularly forward Pau Gasol, following Sunday night’s loss to the Orlando Magic. “There’s been a lot of frustration. We realize where we are and structurally what problems we have that we’re not going to solve — like being a little older and being a little slower, things like that.”
While D’Antoni admits his new team and his old offense don’t necessarily fit right now, he’s confident that he has the players to bring another championship banner to Staples Center.
“We can solve (those problems) by just being better,” he said. “We’re a better team talent-wise if we play . . . together; if we bring the energy defensively and the mental toughness that we need to have.
“We’ve got good guys here and I feel they will respond. They have responded before, then they backslided. It’s just a matter of setting a standard and keeping it, and that’s what we’re working on.”
As the Lakers head into Tuesday night’s game in Houston, they’re once again under .500 at 8-9. And they learned Monday that backup point guard Steve Blake will likely miss the next two months after undergoing laparoscopic surgery on his torn abdominal muscle later this week. When starting point guard Steve Nash returns from his fractured leg us anybody’s guess.
With many fans and certain media criticizing the Lakers and their new coach at every turn, Bryant wanted to remind everyone that while this team has a few years on it, it’s very young in terms of the players working together.
“If you look at this team, we’ve gone through two systems in very short order,” Bryant said. “It takes a while to learn how to play together. On the other hand, we’re not making easy plays we should be making.
“I think we’re playing hard, but guys have to get used to playing different roles. And it takes a minute to adjust, to get used to that.” Then Bryant fired another less-than-veiled shot at Gasol.
“It more comfortable for some guys to keep doing what they know, what’s easier for them,” he said. “You stay in your comfort zone and you’re much more secure.
“You’ve got try a little bit; try different things and try to master that. Then you combine that with previous things you’ve had in your arsenal, and that makes you a better player.”
Bryant said very similar things specifically about Gasol during Sunday night’s rant.
Center Dwight Howard had a tough night on and off the court Sunday during and after the loss to his former team. He missed 12 of 21 free throws during the game, and then had to dodge barbs from an Orlando TV personality who was trying to put Howard on the spot before Laker public relations personnel stepped in. Through it all, though, Howard says that as long as the players in the locker room stick together, nothing will stop this Laker team from reaching its goal of the 17th championship in franchise history.
“I’m not frustrated,” Howard said. “There’s no need to be frustrated, or show frustration. You just have to play through it. And we will.
“At the end of the day, we’re the guys in the locker room and we’re the guys who have to step on the floor and play every night. So, we can’t panic. Despite all the commotion around us, we have to stay at peace.
“We understand what we have to do — we just have to continue to play. We can’t get into what everybody else is saying about us. We’re the ones who have to play.