I hate to say this because I like Mike D'Antoni. He's a nice, personable guy who, as he proved with the Phoenix Suns, can be a very successful NBA coach given the right personnel.
But with the Los Angeles Lakers, he doesn't have the right personnel. He has great personnel -- the best center in the league, one of the best power forwards in the league, an all-time great shooting guard and a terrific, albeit older, playmaking point guard -- but it's personnel that fits neither his coaching philosophy nor his coaching strategy.
It has been a disaster from day one, or maybe we should say night one, when a bum fax machine stalled contract negotiations between D'Antoni and the Lakers in November. Regardless of the lineup -- whether Steve Nash has played or not, whether Dwight Howard has played or not, whether Pau Gasol has played or not -- D'Antoni and these Lakers have been a terrible fit.
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Chris Broussard talks to "Mike & Mike in the Morning" about the possibility of Dwight Howard being traded and the state of the Los Angeles Lakers. Listen
While it has been only 32 games and the Lakers still owe D'Antoni almost $12 million in guaranteed money, it is time for a divorce. The Lakers should fire D'Antoni and let assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff coach the rest of the season.
It sounds drastic, but it needs to be done. This is simply not working, and you know what? It's not going to work because D'Antoni's perimeter-oriented, point-guard-do-it-all, defense-be-damned system does not fit this team. There are not enough trades out there to be made to make it fit, especially when it's built around a soon-to-be 39-year-old point guard.
Part of this is just expediting the inevitable. D'Antoni is going to be fired sooner or later. It might be at the end of this season; it may be midway through next season or even after next season -- but it's coming. There is no reason to believe things are going to improve significantly, at least not enough to make the Lakers the title contender they definitely should be. So why delay it?
This roster is built to win now; there's no time to waste. Wasn't that the explanation given for the hasty dismissal of Mike Brown?
Beyond that, there are strong rumblings that D'Antoni already has lost significant parts of the locker room. Two sources close to the situation have told me that many of the Lakers are fed up with D'Antoni and his system and that Kobe Bryant is the only one keeping many of the players from completely tuning out their coach.
What's worse is that I've heard talk that Howard is hinting he won't re-sign with the Lakers if D'Antoni is the long-term coach. I'm not sure whether that's true because I haven't heard it from Howard or anyone in his camp, but it makes all the sense in the world. Howard wanted the ball more in Orlando, where he was the focal point of the offense, so he certainly can't be happy with the offense he's in now. It's hard to see him wanting to play the next two seasons or more in this system.
Two sources close to the situation have told me that many of the Lakers are fed up with D'Antoni and his system and that Kobe Bryant is the only one keeping many of the players from completely tuning out their coach.
As Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne reported earlier this week, the Lakers are considering the possibility of trading Howard before the Feb. 21 deadline. I've been told the Lakers are trying to figure out what they can get for Howard in a deadline deal. But even though, as one executive recently told me, "most teams would die to get Howard," the Lakers won't have a ton of options because Howard holds the leverage of being a free agent this summer.
Perhaps the only two teams that would get assurances of a long-term commitment from Howard would be the Brooklyn Nets and the Los Angeles Clippers. There is no way the Lakers would send Howard down the hall to play with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, even if the Clippers were willing to offer DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe.
That leaves Brooklyn.
Dallas, Houston and perhaps Atlanta might be willing to trade for Howard without assurances that he would re-sign after the season, but Dallas and Houston have nothing to offer the Lakers. And there's little reason to believe Howard wants to play in his hometown of Atlanta.
But again, why are we even talking trade? The Lakers would be foolish to trade Howard. As bad as things are -- and things are horrendous -- about the only way it can get worse is if Howard is lost in free agency. Why? As Tom Haberstroh pointed out, a rule in the new collective bargaining agreement doesn't allow taxpaying teams such as the Lakers to have a sign-and-trade at their disposal.
The Lakers' best move is to try to keep Howard somehow.
Yes, we are seeing all of Howard's warts in Los Angeles. He's not very mentally tough. His offensive skills are limited. And his foul shooting is abysmal.
But remember, he is playing at about 80 percent after returning from back surgery. One opposing general manager told me his team's trainer said it takes a year to a year and a half to return to form after the type of surgery Howard had. And even in his diminished state, Howard is far and away the best center in basketball.
Without full health and in an offensive system that treats him as an afterthought, he is still averaging 16.7 points, 12 rebounds and 2.5 blocks on 57.6 percent shooting. To put that in perspective, there is not another center in the league who has ever averaged those numbers. Ever. In their best seasons, Brook Lopez, Joakim Noah, Andrew Bynum, Marc Gasol and Tyson Chandler all fell short of that line. Howard remains plenty good.
[+] EnlargeDwight Howard
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsInstead of trading Dwight Howard, perhaps dismissing Mike D'Antoni would compel him to stay.
In 2009, he took the Orlando Magic past LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers and to the NBA Finals. Indeed, this is a guy the Lakers need to sign long-term. He can be the centerpiece of a title contender for seven or eight years after Bryant retires.
The answer is not to trade Howard but to do everything in their power to make the Lakers an attractive home. With the way things have gone in D'Antoni's 12-20 run, that means a coaching change.
I'm not saying the 68-year-old Bickerstaff, who has coached four teams, is an all-time great coach or the long-term solution. I'm just saying he gives the Lakers their best chance of finishing this season on a relatively high note, which would seem to be a must to get Howard to sign on the dotted line.
Over the remainder of this season, the Lakers can take their time and figure out which coaches from the strong list of available candidates best fit their roster. Heck, maybe they can even mend fences with Phil Jackson. Then they can make a more informed hire for next season.
The Lakers, who were 1-4 under Brown and have lost more than 62 percent of their games under D'Antoni, were 4-1 under Bickerstaff. I know it was only five games, and I don't know if Bickerstaff did anything more than say, "Go out there and play like you're at the Y," but the Lakers pounded the surprisingly stellar Golden State Warriors by 24 points and beat Houston, another team currently among the eight playoff seeds, by 11. And that was without Nash.
Under D'Antoni, the Lakers have lost twice to Houston and once to the Sacramento Kings, a team the Lakers beat by 13 under Bickerstaff. In Bickerstaff's final four games as interim coach, Howard averaged 20.5 points, 13.8 rebounds and 3.5 blocks.
Will making the move to Bickerstaff get the Lakers to the Finals? I doubt it. But I bet it would improve the chemistry, get them playing much better basketball and perhaps even get them into the playoffs. And at this point, that would be an accomplishment.
Most believe Jim Buss won't fire D'Antoni soon, not just because of the financial repercussions but because it would be an admission of a colossal mistake. But it would be an even bigger mistake to let the season continue to spiral out of control and, as a result, lose Howard.