From the start, there was one thing most likely to keep Mike D’Antoni from returning as Lakers coach — free agent Dwight Howard.
It may not have been that direct — and it may not change who is the Lakers coach next season — but apparently Howard let Lakers management know exactly how he feels about D’Antoni.
During the Lakers exit interview after they were eliminated by the Spurs, players met with Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak and D’Antoni, but then had the chance to speak to Kupchak without D’Antoni in the room.
According to sources with knowledge of the situation, part of the discussion between Howard and Kupchak centered around Howard’s frustration with D’Antoni — particularly how the center felt marginalized as the coach looked to Bryant and Steve for leadership and suggestions and discounted Howard’s voice….
D’Antoni chose not to retain assistant coach Chuck Person, a Howard confidant, on his staff for next season. Also, Lakers assistant coach Steve Clifford, who was with Howard in Orlando for five seasons before both of them came to L.A. last year, has become a hot head coaching candidate, interviewing with Milwaukee and receiving interest from Charlotte.
One source described the potential departure of Clifford, coupled with the loss of Person as “removing the buffers,” between Howard and D’Antoni, “which is a bad thing.”
If Howard is trying to dig out of the PR mess he created in Orlando and repair his image, this is not helping. At all. The leaks over the last week make him look petty and indecisive again. Also, if only Kupchak and Howard were in that meeting then the leak came from one of two sides here. You think it was the tight-lipped Kupchak?
When D’Antoni arrived to the Lakers he tried to fit the square pegs of the Lakers’ roster into the round holes of his offense. It didn’t work and it wasn’t pretty. The Lakers didn’t defend well for him, either, and they struggled. But by the end of the season the Lakers had moved away from what D’Antoni prefers to more traditional NBA sets. The Lakers also became more dependent on Kobe as the defacto point guard running the offense.
Is there enough frustration there for Howard to turn down $30.4 million more guaranteed? The Lakers can offer one more guaranteed year and slightly larger raises than other teams which all adds up to that sum (how much that extra guaranteed year matters to Howard only he can answer). Howard is reportedly intrigued by the Rockets and Mavericks — two teams in Texas where there is no state income tax. That can make up some of the money but Los Angeles presents more endorsement opportunities.
But is it all about money for Howard? Or was his frustration with D’Antoni, Kobe Bryant and the entire year in Los Angeles have him thinking Houston looks pretty good.
Smart money still is on Howard re-signing with the Lakers. But it is no lock.