Mike D'Antoni may not be the head coach of the Lakers
beyond this season. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Even with the Lakers functionally irrelevant in the current NBA landscape, the team's internal affairs churn on. Long-tenured general manager Mitch Kupchak signed an extension on Tuesday to remain in his current post, though according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN LA, the same security may not be afforded head coach Mike D'Antoni. Previous reports from other outlets had noted that the Lakers were "leaning toward" keeping D'Antoni as their coach for next season, but McMenamin reported on Tuesday that his sources have indicated the opposite. From McMenamin's appearance on SportsCenter:
Despite reports out there that the Lakers could be leaning toward retaining Mike D'Antoni, my sources tell me that is not the case. If anything they are leaning toward relieving him of his coaching duties at the end of this season and not picking up the final year of his contract that is $4 million guaranteed and find someone else out there on the market.
Regardless of which way the team leans, Kupchak told Sam Amick of USA Today that Kobe Bryant -- the face of the franchise whose two-year extension will kick in next season -- will not be consulted in the decision of D'Antoni's future.
These reports come packaged, naturally, with rumors that the Lakers could be considering University of Kentucky coach John Calipari as a potential D'Antoni replacement. Team officials have denied that whisper completely, as McMenamin notes in his spot. D'Antoni also had a chance to respond to the rumors earlier this week (via ESPN LA):
"That's kind of the world we live in," D'Antoni said. "Where before, what, three years ago, it would just be a little rumor that one person heard. Now, a million hear it. That's just the way the world is. It's social media and people run with it and whether it means anything or not, it's not really up to me anyway. So, you just go on. It's not a big deal."
D'Antoni has only coached the Lakers for the better part of two seasons, during which the team has gone 70-90 while decimated by injuries. Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash alone have missed a combined 204 games during his tenure, to say nothing of the ailments and absences of Dwight Howard, Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar, Xavier Henry and others. Coaching star-less lineups of minimum-salary talent isn't quite what he signed up for; D'Antoni was hired so that he might bring synergy to a loaded roster, primarily by tapping back into his fruitful relationships with Nash and Bryant. He was never really given the chance, as at the time of his arrival Nash was already a shadow of his former self and in D'Antoni's second season Bryant has been absent almost entirely.
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Injury doesn't excuse all of the Lakers' failings, though, and D'Antoni should be held responsible for his reluctance to adapt. He's a pioneer of the modern NBA, responsible for sparking some of the most prevalent trends in pro-level offense. He's also roundly refused to bend or tilt his system to the personnel available in his gigs since, which at times has marginalized talented players or removed them from the rotation completely. D'Antoni only makes sense as the Lakers coach so long as the team is interested in maintaining that core system. If Kupchak believes the underlying framework works best for the rebuilding Lakers, then D'Antoni stays. If not, then prepare for the Lakers to be linked to every glamorous coaching candidate even remotely available in the months to come.