With 25 seconds left in the 3rd quarter against the Bulls, the Lakers got their first lead of the game on a reverse layup from Kobe Bryant and looked to have the momentum to build on it to take a rare win on the road. But just like the season so far, the Lakers could not stop themselves from tripping over their own foot and lost yet another opportunity to climb out of the hole they've dugged themselves.
At 17-24 and already officially halfway through a disappointing season, the probability of making the playoffs gets dimmer and dimmer for the Lakers. By this stage in the season, this team was supposed to be already making their mark. And by All-Star weekend, the Lakers were expected to be a serious playoff team that's probably sitting in the #4 or #5 spot in the west. Instead, the Lakers are still scratching their heads trying to figure out how to put it all together.
We can all agree to disagree to what led to all of the frustrations, but one thing is evident and imminent, something has to change.
While there's really no wrong answers at this point, it might be best for the Lakers to go back a bit and see what Bernie Bickerstaff did after the firing of Mike Brown. He made the offense and, for the most part, the defense rather simple for the players. And by stripping all of the non-sense down to just basic basketball behind the strength of the names in back of the jerseys, the Lakers won 3 of their next 4 games. That's not a coincidence.
As I have alluded to before, a team as stack and as experienced as the Lakers don't need any fancy systems. About the only thing to do as the head coach of this team is to focus in on how to make all of that talent rely on one another rather than defy one another.
Mike D'Antoni is certainly no Phil Jackson when it comes to having the natural ability to make all of the "alpha males" work together like cogs. But he can do that if he's willing to get rid of that stubborness of his by molding his offense to what this team is truly built on...the halfcourt. That means the offense will follow an inside-out attack instead of what's already a diluted version of his "7 seconds or less" system.
At this point, he has to try something he hasn't before. And by "permanently" putting Pau Gasol on the bench after saying he wouldn't means that he's run out of ideas in trying to make this team play winning basketball.
He already has Kobe doing whatever he can on defense and making sure Howard gets the first crack on offense. We know Steve Nash will never go against to anything that benefits the team. And if the Lakers core are all in it, the rest of the team will follow.
The Lakers have been hungry for an identity all year long. That responsibility falls on the head coach. The players know that the team is a halfcourt team backed by 2 very able post-players. And judging what Jim Buss said in his most recent radio interview regarding the decision to hire D'Antoni over Phil, the Lakers front office see this team as a halfcourt team also.
To a certain degree, I think D'Antoni is starting to realize that when he opted to bench Pau to take over for Dwight in the paint. But the key for him is to take it a step or two further by revising his playbook into a strict halfcourt offensive system and to encourage more pick-and-rolls with Nash and Howard/Gasol and Kobe and Howard/Gasol. Afterall, isn't that one of the reasons why Nash was brought over and why Brown wanted more motion in the offense?
As for the defense, the effort there will pick up once an identity on offense has been established. Let's be honest, basketball is at its most exciting on offense. Even defensive-minded players like Metta World Peace and Howard enjoy putting the ball in the hoop. So to make the players happy offensively, it's easier for them to put the energy and commitment on defense because there's a sense of responsiblity as a role player for each player on offense.
I'm not sure how much substance D'Antoni can actually relay to his players on defense given that he's never been a coach known for his defensive schemes. But fortunately, he has enough smart players, who are also still looking at him to give them something to believe in, who can figure it out. It's not like the Lakers' problems on defense aren't so glaringly obvious that the players haven't already identified what needs to be corrected. Changing the offense that truly emphasizes the strengths of his players as how they would like to see it just might be the change the Lakers have been waiting for all season long.
Of course, there's no guarantee the Lakers will turn it around even if D'Antoni changes his way. But for him to continue to pretend that this team is something it isn't, as we're all seeing, is foolish and a disservice to a franchise that measures success in championship gold.
If D'Antoni really wants to see this team win, then he has to start acting like a head coach.