Here we are not even a month into the 2012-13 NBA season, and the Lakers have had to deal with what feels like a season’s worth of adversity and uncertainty. After only 71 games as the Lakers’ head coach, Mike Brown was surreptitiously fired after one of the worst starts in team history. The ensuing power vacuum at the head of the bench resulted in what can only be described as a strange coaching transition. And if the uncertainty caused by such frustrating conditions wasn’t enough, injuries to almost one third of the roster have exacerbated the situation.
Having coached less games for the Lakers than the ’95-’96 Bulls won in a season, the Lakers looked thoroughly mediocre under Brown en route to a 41-25 record during the lockout shortened season. The Lakers were right in the middle of the pack last season, finishing 15th on both offense and defense. Then, to start the season, the Lakers failed to win a preseason game, and allowed opponents to score over 100 ppg, while getting beaten by an average of 14 points once the season began. With all the talent on this $100 million roster, which features three perennial All-NBA defenders, there was no way Brown was going to be the Lakers coach for long. There is no question that Mike Brown needed to go.
Despite the irregularity of firing a coach so soon into the season (the equivalent of an NFL coach getting fired with 1:28 left in the first game according to ESPN Stats), the front office made the situation even more precarious by tempting fans with the prospect of a third coaching stint for Phil Jackson. Just when it seemed like a forgone conclusion that this would be Phil’s team again, the men in charge went with Mike D’Antoni for what was described as “basketball reasons”. It is difficult to understand how going with a proven winner, a man with 11 rings and 13 Finals appearances, is less preferable than a coach who has yet to make the NBA Finals. In the end, management felt that the fast paced offensive style of Mike D’Antoni was a better fit for this roster than the triangle offense used to much success by Phil Jackson.
Since taking over the reins of the most expensive team in basketball, Mike D’Antoni has given fans reason to be optimistic. Since beginning to implement his system, he is currently 4-3 and the Lakers are sitting barely below .500 with a 7 – 8 record. The offense has looked drastically improved, scoring an average of 106.33 ppg, up from 97.2 ppg under Brown. Even the bench looks much better, scoring an average of 24.6 ppg under D’Antoni, as opposed to a measly 17.4 ppg during that awful 1 – 4 stretch to start the season. Lakers fans expect better, but more improvements should be expected. The Lakers have been playing with a still-recovering Dwight Howard, an overworked Pau Gasol, and without their first AND second string point guards
In fact, the Lakers injury woes are the most significant cause for concern, now that the roller coaster coaching situation has been figured out. Dwight Howard has said that he is only about “75-80 percent”, and still in the process of recovering. Pau Gasol has been averaging 36 minutes per game, and it should come as no surprise that he has come down with knee tendinitis when considering his age and short off-season due to the Olympics. Steve Nash hasn’t played since Oct. 31st, and is out indefinitely with a fractured fibula. His back up, Steve Blake, has been out since Nov. 11th with an abdominal strain after starting only five games.
It may be a while before the world gets to see what this team can do when at full strength. The jury will be out on Mike D’Antoni until then. There is plenty of reason to be hopeful, but anything less than a championship is never good enough when you’re the Lakers. Unless this aging roster can get healthy in time to have a command of how to play well together come the playoffs, an early playoff exit may leave management with a similar coaching predicament.