COMMENTARY | While the Los Angeles Lakers would have everyone believe that head coach Mike D'Antoni isn't on the hot seat, the culture of the NBA says otherwise.
As the Lakers' lead man enters his second season at the helm, he has the full backing of management. General manager Mitch Kupchak has been steadfast in his support of the coach who replaced the ousted Mike Brown just five games into the 2012-13 season, despite the masses clamoring for Phil Jackson to lead the Purple and Gold once again.
It didn't happen, and among fans at least, D'Antoni has become somewhat of a pariah because of who he isn't. But the Lakers support their head coach, as do the players.
So the question of whether or not he is on the hot seat is complex, and it has to do with perspective.
In his own mind, D'Antoni feels that he's always on the hot seat because of the landscape of the NBA; he said as much during Lakers Media Day back in September (hat tip to Lakers Nation):
"Everybody's on a hot seat. Obviously, this is L.A. It's normal. I don't sit around and fret about it, but I think if you ask 29 other coaches, they'd all say 'yeah.' I think every coach feels the exact same way, but we're excited and know that we're lucky to have one of the 30 jobs."
He saw 13 colleagues get the axe last season, and, most notably, coaching legend George Karl took the Denver Nuggets to a franchise-record 57 wins during the regular season, yet was sent packing after a first-round playoff exit as the reigning NBA Coach of the Year.
There were an unprecedented number of coaching changes; it's a testament to how the the NBA continues to evolve as a business. With more salary cap constraints that limit the creation of star-studded teams as a result of the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement, player development is a more critical component of building a team. Commissioner David Stern attested to that fact when he spoke with USA Today during the offseason about the changes:
"I think it's a natural consequence of a team putting together a roster, putting pressure on the general manager to configure that roster, thinking that they have a chance to compete," Stern said.
The Lakers are building a program, starting with surrounding D'Antoni with players that fit his system and affording him the opportunity to hold a full training camp and offseason program in which he can evaluate his players and determine rotations. Expectations are lower than ever after a 2012-13 season that yielded disappointing results and an unceremonious exit in the first round of the NBA playoffs with a team many tabbed to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.
Again, the Lakers have said that D'Antoni is their man, but that tune could change if the team is embarrassed and doesn't compete this season. A lot of it hinges on the health of aging stars Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, but, ultimately, the onus will fall on the head coach if another season goes terribly wrong.
That's unlikely, though, mostly due to this year's Lakers being an afterthought when it comes to teams in playoff contention. In house, there's no thought of doing anything but trying to win during the regular season and beyond, and it looks as though as long as L.A. stays engaged and committed to giving effort, then the Lakers will give D'Antoni time and, eventually, reinforcements in personnel when cap space becomes available in 2014.
If last season showed us one thing, it's that anything can happen.
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Michael C. Jones is a Southern California-based journalist and was the 2012 Contributor of the Year. He is the founding editor of Sports Out West and contributes to SB Nation.
Statistics via Basketball-Reference.com.
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