The Los Angeles Lakers Must Dump Mike D'Antoni to Keep Dwight Howard
Losing Kobe Bryant will go down as the biggest reason why the Los Angeles Lakers failed to make any noise in the NBA playoffs. There is a lot of truth to that statement, however it isn't the only big reason why the longtime basketball power has looked more vulnerable than ever. That blame is reserved for the inability of head coach Mike D'Antoni to mesh with center Dwight Howard.
International and Phoenix Suns success underscores how D'Antoni fit
To say D'Antoni is a bad basketball coach is all wrong. His proven history of success speaks for itself. He coached teams to championships in the Italian, European and Korean leagues. On top of that he led the Phoenix Suns to the playoffs four times in six seasons, making two-straight appearances in the Western Conference Finals. In that time he won Coach of the Year and turned Steve Nash into a two-time MVP. So when the Lakers brought Nash in via free agency and former coach Mike Brown was fired, D'Antoni seemed like a natural fit.
The problem was things were not running smoothly when he came aboard. Nash and Howard were both coming back from injuries. This in turn forced D'Antoni to lean on the 35-year old Bryant, who played the most minutes for a season ever in his long career. Experts believe it was this wear and tear on his body that led to his torn Achilles injury. However, the Lakers still made the playoffs and on paper had enough talent left to make some noise. By that point Howard and Nash were healthy. Yet L.A. continued to struggle and never put up much of a fight in their first round exit against the San Antonio Spurs.
So was D'Antoni that bad? Not at all. The Lakers started their season 17-25 before he took over. After that they went 28-12 and qualified for the playoffs. Where things went wrong was from the very beginning. Los Angeles made a lot of off-season moves to make sure Howard came in from the Orlando Magic. His greatest success came under former coach Stan Van Gundy who brought a disciplined, half court approach that featured Howard in the paint and a bevy of outside shooters to use when teams focused on him. D'Antoni on the other hand runs a system built around high octane, open court basketball. He believes in getting the ball down the court quickly and scoring. That style doesn't work on a player like Howard, who is known more for his physical strength than his speed or endurance. Though the Lakers were still driven through Bryant, their failure was not doing better research in finding a head coach who would use Howard properly.
The Houston Rockets
Now things are about to go from bad to worse for L.A. Not only is next season uncertain for Bryant or Nash, word has come out that Howard may have interest in leaving. He is a free agent in 2013. After such a tough season with the Lakers and his struggles under D'Antoni he feels his best option is to find a team and a coach who will cater to his strengths. Clearly it didn't take long to research. The team he listed at the top of ones he might consider was the Houston Rockets.
On paper it makes complete sense. With James Harden and Jeremy Lin in the back court, the offensive capabilities of the Rockets are already in place. Where they struggled a lot at times last season was on defense and in the front court. Their center Omer Asik played well but could not hold down the paint alone. Inserting Howard next to him would give Houston a pair of twin towers known for their suffocating defense, making any hope of inside scoring impossible. Add in head coach Kevin McHale who was a Hall of Fame front court player and there is no doubt he will know how to use Howard.
The task ahead may not seem clear for the Lakers but it is if their plans still involve handing the reigns to Howard. The All-Star center said his inability to fit D'Antoni's system was a big reason why he was considering a move somewhere else. There won't be any bigger hints. Los Angeles should thank D'Antoni for turning their season around, give him a nice bonus and politely send him on his way.
The problem is they banked a lot on Howard being their guy for the future. They have no first round pick for the 2013 NBA draft and won't have lots of cap space to make any big counter moves in free agency. For better or worse their best hope for next season rests on convincing Howard to return. To do that they must admit their mistake and send D'Antoni packing. Then they better hope Bryant can come back healthy for one more run.