Monday, April 29, 2013

Why the Lakers Will Fire Coach Mike D'Antoni

The L.A. Lakers are a mess. But step #1 in straightening out the mess is pretty simple. Management has to make a decision--keep center Dwight Howard or coach Mike D'Antoni. They can't have both.

The problem is that Howard doesn't like DAntoni--at all--and doesn't want to play for him..According to two sources close to two Laker players, Howard's dislike is two-pronged. The center doesn't like the coach personally, dismissing him as a shallow, insensitive, hypocritical jerk. Also, Howard hates D'Antoni's high-speed, offense-oriented system which devalues what he is--a post-up, defense-minded center. Both  men make nice in public, playing up to fans and media, but behind the scenes, report the sources, there's nothing but animosity.

Howard is a free agent after this season, which ended embarrassingly on Sunday with a sweep by the San Antonio Spurs. The big question, of course, is will he sign a long-term contract with the Lakers? The answer, of course, is obvious to those close to the team. He won't sign as long as D'Antoni is coach.

When asked about re-signing, Howard dances and dodges, never giving a straight answer. What he really wants to say, but can't, is that he doesn't like the coach and he's not going to sign as long as D'Antoni is in charge.

But, no question, Howard is the future of the Lakers. They desperately need him. He's the player they want to build around. Coming back from Achilles tendon surgery, aging Kobe Bryant can't be the centerpiece. Neither can another veteran star, Pau Gasol, who's on the downside of his career and is the team's primary trade bait. And Metta World Peace and Steve Nash? Forget about those old codgers. Howard, a great defensive player when healthy and motivated, is the main building block.

Surprisingly, so far, it looks like D'Antoni has the edge. GM Mitch Kupchak has said that D'Antoni is coming back next season. Those close to the team, those who know how Howard feels about the coach, were flabbergasted by the announcement..

Management probably thinks they can change Howard's mind, maybe by offering him so much money he can't refuse. Or maybe by smoothing over the differences between the two.

Can D'Antoni modify his system to a point where it's palatable to Howard? He did this season, going with a more traditional, slow-down format, but mainly because injuries forced him down that road. However Howard feels, say the sources, that if D'Antoni sticks around he will eventually gravitate back to his old system, which really doesn't make the best use of the center's skills.

So look for the Lakers, after a lot of agonizing and negotiating, to sign Howard to a long-term contract and send his nemesis packing. It'll be costly. The team is already paying off one coach, Mike Brown, a defense-oriented leader, by the way, that Howard liked. So they'll be buying out yet another coach, in addition to paying a new one.

The Lakers have no choice but to side with Howard. The reality is that coaches are a dime a dozen. Giant, skilled, All-Star centers aren't.