Mike D’Antoni was placed into a situation as head coach of the Lakers last season where he never really had a fair chance to succeed.
The hope in Los Angeles this year is that due to expectations being lowered significantly from the championship-or-bust mentality that (rightfully) surrounded the team a season ago, D’Antoni won’t be under as much pressure, and therefore, may be able to work some level of magic with the players he’ll have on the roster.
In other words, he might actually have a shot.
Several times last season, D’Antoni paraphrased Winston Churchill in describing his approach to the Lakers’ ups and downs, “When you’re going through hell, you put your head down and keep going, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
The pressure of a $100 million payroll that was built to be a contender and was struggling just to play .500 ball was persistent and intense. The Lakers are hoping that [Dwight Howard]’s departure will perhaps act as a sort of pressure release valve heading into the upcoming season.
“Expectations should be lower and I think that will ease the pressure on him,” said a source familiar with the Lakers front office’s thinking.
Never mind the fact that D’Antoni took over the team five games into the season after the unexpected yet deserved firing of Mike Brown, who had spent all of training camp trying to install a complicated offensive system that the players seemed to resist.
In addition to trying to right the ship once the season had already started, the injuries suffered by the Lakers reached comical levels before things were through, and the constant lineup shuffling made it impossible to see what D’Antoni might’ve been capable of without his best players available to play together for anything more than very small stretches.
None of that stopped the constant and scathing over-analysis, however, and as Howard will be the first to tell you, it was anything but fun to be in that situation.
It will be interesting to see what D’Antoni can do given a full training camp, and given the fair amount of talent added to the roster in the form of Chris Kaman, Nick Young, and Jordan Farmar.
There will be no intense pressure to win night in and night out, and the scrutinization of the team’s shortcomings by the media will be minimal, at best. If next season does indeed turn out to be a disaster, the blame will firmly be placed on D’Antoni’s shoulders. But no matter how it all plays out, he’ll be able to say that at least this time, he was given a fighting chance.