COMMENTARY | There have been calls from far and wide begging for Mike D'Antoni's head since the day he was handed the Los Angeles Lakers head-coaching job in a midnight coup.
With the greatest coach in NBA history, Phil Jackson, rumored to be on the verge of accepting the Lakers' job, management moved quickly to keep control of the situation.
If Jackson had accepted, they would no longer hold control. They had spoken to the Zen Master as a formality, and his acceptance of the recently vacated coaching position would handcuff them to Jackson's whims. Hastily, D'Antoni was interviewed and handed the job.
For his part, even D'Antoni admitted that he had never even spoken with Dr. Jerry Buss and that he was initially shocked to be handed the job. Still, executive VP Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak contended that Dr. Buss had made the decision to hire the man seemingly no one wanted.
Outside of D'Antoni, Kupchak and Buss (Jim and possible Jerry depending on what one chooses to believe) hardly a soul was happy with the decision to bring in the wise-cracking West Virginian--including executive VP Jeanie Buss, who was now engaged to Jackson.
Jackson's dream of guiding the Lakers into the next chapter past Kobe Bryant and with Dwight Howard was humiliatingly shattered. In the aftermath of the hire, Jackson initially spoke out to protect his reputation. Ultimately, however, he was so profoundly shaken that he swore off coaching forever.
Then, the "Dwightmare" took hold.
Los Angeles wept Dr. Buss' death and the season of cursed turmoil climaxed into a conflagration that ripped Bryant's Achilles tendon. Howard jumped ship and D'Antoni, Kupchak and Buss worked together to build a team that would last one season.
For the first 19 games of the season, D'Antoni coached the assembly of tossed out talent better than most anyone could have imagined. Injuries to Steve Nash, Jordan Farmar, and Chris Kaman did not prevent the coach from providing the Lakers with a winning record until Bryant returned.
Then, six games into his return, Bryant was out injured, and Steve Blake joined Nash and Farmar in the doctor's office.
Still, D'Antoni guided the team to a 13-13 record, and the playoffs were a realistic possibility.
Xavier Henry soon joined the injured contingent, and that was the straw that broke the camel's back. What followed ultimately crushed the Lakers' season and the sealed D'Antoni's fate. The wounded Lakers would slowly bleed out over a 20 game span, and D'Antoni would glimpse the imminent death that was approaching. With every loss, his spirit would steadily sulk.
The Lakers lost 17 of 20 games and went from a strong contender for a playoff spot to a team at the bottom of the Western Conference. Tuesday's loss to Indiana was the not lowest point during that stretch, but it was one more loss that reinforced the team and coach's fate.
Regardless of how they got there, the Los Angeles Lakers were 16-30 on the season and in a virtual tie for last place in the Western Conference. For this organization in particular, losing was unacceptable. For the fans, the Lakers were often unwatchable. For everyone, the reality of the situation was unbearable.
Someone needed to be blamed.
Bad luck with injuries was the cause, but only one man was in a position to be replaced. That man was the coach, unfair as it may have been. With the depleted squad, D'Antoni did not have the ability to play his brand of basketball and still win games.
Instead of adapting and playing with extra size to fill the depleted backcourt, the coach opted to go small and start a rookie at power forward. The lack of defensive fortitude glared on a nightly basis. Opponents took advantage, and the Lakers quickly became the worst defensive team in the Western Conference.
The Lakers allowed 106 points per game on average, second-worst in the NBA. The best team in the league only gave up 90 points per game, and the Lakers were lucky if they were only considered 16 points worse than the elite teams in the league. On one memorably painful night, they found themselves down by 40 points against their city rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers.
Something needed to change as blame was placed on management and the coaching staff with unrelenting conviction. Regardless of the reasons, the pressure mounted, and the only way to win back the fans was to remove the man no one wanted in the first place.
Ironically, though, the reason for the change was defense, and the man asked to take over coaching duties for the remainder of the season would be the defensive assistant coach of the team, Kurt Rambis.
It did not make sense, but with the Lakers sitting at the bottom of the standings having lost 17 of the last 20 games, nothing really made sense any more, did it?
Was it finally time to let D'Antoni go?
Shahan Ahmed is a Yahoo Contributor in Sports and is a Los Angeles Lakers insider for NBC Los Angeles. He is based in Santa Monica and covers the Lakers at practices, shootarounds, games, and special events. You can follow Shahan on Twitter@ShahanLA.
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- Los Angeles Lakers
- Dr. Jerry Buss