Dwight Howard, reportedly, is not happy with is coach. This is not a recycled column, though most of Howard’s complaints are.
The free agent center was granted an extended, private discussion with Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak following the typical, season-ending interviews with both Kupchak, and Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni. According to the quite trust-o-ble Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles, the former Orlando Magic big man expressed frustration with D’Antoni’s coaching style, putting some doubt into Howard’s expected return to Los Angeles during this offseason.
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 Nash for leadership and suggestions and discounted Howard's voice.
"We had to just sell out to whatever he wanted, whether we liked it or not," Howard said of D'Antoni following his exit interview. "We had to do what was going to benefit the team, and being one of the leaders on the team, I had to make sure I kept the guys in line to what the coach wanted us to do."
A source said Howard was very careful with his public comments about D'Antoni after the season, wary of attracting a "coach killer reputation" after how things ended in Orlando with Stan Van Gundy losing his job. Despite the frustration Howard had with D'Antoni last season, there is nothing to suggest the partnership is irreparable. "It's not a, 'It's me or Mike,' situation for Dwight," said a source.
McMenamin went on to report that the Lakers’ loss of Chuck Person and expected loss of Steve Clifford – two of the league’s more respected assistant coaches and Howard confidantes – could further frustrate Howard. Person wasn’t retained and Clifford is one of the top candidates for one of the many open NBA head coaching jobs, and the removal of “buffers” between Howard and D’Antoni, according to ESPN Los Angeles’ sources “is a bad thing.”
Our thoughts on the Lakers’ coaching fits haven’t changed since the season, and Dave’s report doesn’t mess with a whole heck of a lot. Mike D’Antoni didn’t do an awful job with this group, but he also didn’t adapt to his team. It’s true that he had no bench, his point guard was hurt, and the roster didn’t suit his style – but it’s not the roster’s job to suit the coach. It’s the coach’s job to adapt to the roster. In an unfair but apt comparison, Phil Jackson was the guy that returned to the Lakers in time to work the triangle offense – an offense predicated on post passing and movement – with two of the worst passing big man of the era in Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown. Jackson modified the offense, waited out Andrew Bynum’s development, and utilized Pau Gasol expertly.
D’Antoni? He’s still hoping Pau Gasol can turn into Shawn Marion.
Perhaps that could change by October – and it better, because while Dwight Howard might be moping off to another team (though we doubt it), D’Antoni’s not going anywhere. Laker top cat Jim Buss dug in his heels with the D’Antoni hiring last fall, and he’s not going to show what he probably perceives to be weakness in dropping the former Suns and Knicks coach for another candidate. If Buss were open to player influence, Brian Shaw would be readying himself for his third year as Lakers coach right now.
(Or, perhaps, still coaching the Lakers deep into May of this season.)
The Lakers modified their offense by the end of the season into weird, somehow winning (because “Kobe” that’s why), amalgamation that seemed to make nobody happy. None of the team’s stars were really put in a good place, as Nash was still injured and taken out of dominating the ball, Bryant was playing way too many minutes, Pau was still out of place, and Howard wasn’t featured. All-around sacrifice is needed if a team full of very good players wants to evolve into a winner, but this version was so joyless and such an affront to the basketball gods that D’Antoni pleased so much in Phoenix, that the more spiritual of hoop followers may wonder if it was some sort of karmic reaction to various previous misdeeds from Mssrs. Howard and Buss.
Dwight doesn’t care about karmic reactions. He wants the ball, and he wants a lot of help so that nobody picks on him when things go wrong. The guy turned 27 this season, he’s been in the NBA since 2004, and this is pretty much what he is. Those waiting for the Long Awaited Big Grow-Up should just quit it.
Sadly, guys like this are power brokers in the NBA. Worse for Howard, he’s going up against one of the more well-heeled and stubborn power brokers in the NBA, and Jim Buss won’t go changin’ just to please him.