Culture of Hoops

Mike D’Antoni: Understanding what he really said about the Lakers’ season

Mike D'Antoni

Doublespeak isn’t just something from the book 1984; it’s a real thing, and people use it everyday when they’re asked things that have sticky answers.

Mike D’Antoni is working on becoming the master of doublespeak.

Last week on ESPNLA 710, the Los Angeles Lakers coach was interviewed by hosts Mark Willard and Mychal Thompson. They asked him about everything from Dwight Howard to how Coach thinks the Lakers will do this year.

Here’s how he answered the questions, and what can be gleaned from the answers:

Q: Why did you add Kurt Rambis to your staff?
A: For a lot of reasons. One he’s a good coach. Knows the lay of the land around here, definitely a fan favorite. But I mean, all of this you could put into why (inaudible) but the bottom line, he knows how to coach and that’s what we’re looking for, and he should be a favorite of Phil. He worked for him for years, and with a lot of success, so I mean you definitely can’t hold that against him, but it’s just going to make us a better team.

Analysis: Hmm… There’s a lot of good reasons, you say? And yet, you can only seem to come up with two specifics?

Also, I’m pretty sure no one would hold anyone “responsible” for learning under Phil Jackson; people would just hold them in regard (see: Brian Shaw is hired by the Denver Nuggets)

Q: It seems like Kurt Rambis would be a daily reminder of Phil Jackson. How would you respond to that?
A: Well, first of all I don’t think that anybody needs any reminders. They’re pretty good at remembering. I don’t look at it that way. (laughs) As a matter of fact, the other day when we signed Farmar somebody was saying there’s going to be a lot of chants to play Farmar when he’s sitting on the bench, he’s fan favorite and I said that’s gonna be better than the chants they’re doing now. (laughs) It’s, again, Phil casts a big shadow and he should. He had unbelievable success, he’s a great coach, but it is what it is. I’m just trying to hire the best guys qualified and Kurt is that. So, you don’t want to start, ‘OK, this guy is not quite as good, but let’s get him,’ because you’re afraid of something that happened in the past. We got to go forward and we got to try to make this team as good as we can.

Analysis: First of all, Lakers fans at the games, D’Antoni hears your chants, so mission accomplished. Secondly, if Rambis was “not quite as good” as another guy, but you don’t want to hold his past against him, so you hire him for that reason?

I’m confused…

Q: Do you feel like you’ve been treated fairly by the fans and the media here in LA?
A: You know, coming out of New York, really it’s the nature of the business now. Obviously on a bigger stage. You get more national attention. ESPN goes to the league and they get the Lakers, it makes a difference. You shouldn’t take the job if you aren’t open to criticism and whatever. As long as the organization is behind me, which they are 100%, we’re trying to move in the right direction, trying to be the best job that we can do, then I’m okay with whatever comes about. It’s not easy, but it’s not easy on any NBA team. As you see, we changed, what, 13 coaches this year. We had four guys– I mean I could be a guy with the best record in franchise history and get fired. That’s already happened to four guys this year. So that’s just the nature of the business. It’s a little out of whack. There’s 24 hour assessment of your job is, nobody can hold up to that scrutiny, but at the same time, that’s the job and you take it and you try to get with your players and do the best that you can do.

Analysis: D’Antoni’s having a tough time, but at the end of the day, he knows he tried his best. That’s wonderful. No sarcasm here; sometimes your best still isn’t enough.

Q: What are your realistic goals for the team this year?
A: Well, I think we can be better than most people think. Where that goes kind of depends on the players. We, we, I think Jim Buss and Mitch have done a great job of retooling while keeping an eye open to the market and playing the game the way the CBA rules have set out. You have to change the way of business a little bit and I thought they did a great job of retooling with keeping our options open. I’m really excited about the players coming in. I think we have to develop some of them. They have to be better than most people think, and I think we can do that and surprise people. And then we’ll see. You don’t want to rule anything out. You don’t want to put a cap on your expectations, everybody in August has great expectations. Everybody’s undefeated so far. So, we’ll see how it goes but I’m excited to get started and really excited about working with the players we’ve got.

Analysis: You’ll notice that there was NO mention of a championship anywhere in there. Just that the Lakers will be better than most people think they will.

This is possibly his most incensing answer throughout the entire interview.

Sure, it’s a long shot that the Lakers will win the championship, and every Lakers fan knows that somewhere in their hearts. However, this is also still the Lakers, and in this age of Kobe Bryant, a year without a championship is just another wasted year.

So, even with an older team and Coach Pringles at the helm, fans really still believe that they will win it all. There are probably some players other than Kobe that believe it too. They have to in order for it to happen this season.

But the bad news is that the coach doesn’t think so, or he would have said it.

Q: This is a playoff team in your mind?
A: Ya, I mean, that’s, uh, it’s uh, yeah, I think if you ask any coach of the 15 in each conference if you don’t you know, they don’t think they’re going to win the first day, then you better get a new job. We all think we’re going to win the title today.

Ya, similarly to how I think I’m going to stick to a juice cleanse every time I start one.

As of now, sure, D’Antoni thinks they can go to the playoffs. Maybe.

It’s just another example of him not having confidence in this team, or himself.

If he did, the answer would have been a quick, “Yes! Absolutely!”

Q: Mike, you didn’t have a training camp last year, how much difference will that make this year?
A: I think it will make a big difference. We had to sort through the philosophy we had with the injuries. What set us back last year is I came in with certain ideas and didn’t get a chance to look and see if it was realistic enough and didn’t get a chance to, knowing Steve Nash was out for seven weeks when I came in, so I kept waiting for him come back to see if it was all gonna work and we had to adjust something midway through the year to maximize what we could do. This year we should start off finding and solving some problems in October and in September when you watch guys play and what’s their tendencies, and then you formulate your ideas and you try to get it going by November. It just makes it a little more difficult and the injuries didn’t help any, but I thought at the end of the year we were playing at a pretty good rate.

Analysis: He waited an entire half of a season to adjust his system. HALF OF THE SEASON.

A good coach would hear Nash was going to be out, and regroup. You still had Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard for crying out loud. Ya, they were injured on-and-off, but that’s still a scoring duo if you maximize their possessions. Instead, D’Antoni tried to continue to force his system on them so that Nash could slip seamlessly into position.

Meanwhile… HALF OF YOUR SEASON is gone.

Q: When do you expect for Kobe to be back and when he comes back do you still think he will be a 25 point a game Kobe, or more of an 18 point a game Kobe?
A: Right now, I don’t think anybody can know and I think everybody’s hoping for the best and everyone can say what they want and what they can, doctors don’t really know until probably another month or two, and that is realistically. And then they can make their assessment at that point. I do know that his work ethic and the way he attacks the injury. I’ve never seen anyone like this, the hours he puts in and the ability he has to play with pain or with problems and all that. You know that. It’s all been documented. I wouldn’t put anything past him, but nobody knows. We’ll just have to wait and see in a month or two. Having said that, Kobe is a competitor, and once he is back on the floor — Father Time does march on and things happen — I don’t know if you can say he’s going to average 25 [points], he’s going to average 30, he’s going to average 18, nobody knows. But one thing I do know — he’ll give it his all, and it will be interesting to see. It will be a heck of a battle, that’s for sure.
Analysis: “Kobe is from another freaking planet, so me telling you how he’ll do is impossible because no one works as hard as him. No one.”

It’s like someone trying to predict how an alien will perform in the NBA. The Black Mamba is a totally different animal. At least Coach knows that much.

Q: Coach how do you plan to manage his minutes this year?
A: Uh… Talking with Kobe. (laughs) I don’t know what we can do. You know, he’s very determined in what he does, and we’ll work together on it, hopefully. We’ll see. But that will all be determined when we see how he feels and where he is and where he is with the team and all that. We’ll work through those issues and try to do the best that we can for him.

Analysis: “I have zero control over Kobe, so if he wants to play, he will.”

You may remember last season when Kobe was asked about how many minutes he was playing, and he laughed at the reporter asking if people really thought D’Antoni was going to tell Kobe to come out if a game.

That about says it all. Kobe has zero respect for this coach, and in all honesty, he hasn’t earned it. Not because he doesn’t have championships. It’s because he’s incapable of making timely adjustments and managing the personalities on the team. If he was good at that, Howard wouldn’t have been running around the locker room with his stats sheet, passive aggressively asking people if they’d see how many shots he got.

Q: Coach how’s your relationship with Pau?
A: (2 second pause) I think it’s good. It’s, I think it’s real good. We just had to go through some stuff at first. He was hurt physically. The team was floundering and it needed and injection of something. We could just, oh you know, everybody’s happy but we’re losing every game. So, we changed up things and he was sent to the bench, which nobody likes, and it think it shook everybody up and we got it back to where he, the last 10 games had what, three triple doubles, two triple doubles. I expect him to have the best year he’s ever had coming up. That’s my goal, and I’m extremely happy he’s on the team and we’ll see where this goes. But he’s going to be a big piece of this and hopefully have the best year he’s ever had.

Analysis: This entire answer is just silly. First, it takes D’Antoni a nearly full 2 MISSISSIPPIs to say that he and Pau have a good relationship. If you asked someone on a date, and it took 2 seconds for “yes” to be the answer, then you know it was really a “no,” but “yes” seemed like the right thing to say.

Then, D’Antoni essentially takes credit for firing the team up by benching Gasol.

What fired people up was them winning, and then the fact that the players were finally running a system that suited them better.

Q: I’ve got Kobe, Nash, Pau, Jordin Hill and Wes Johnson as the starting five. Am I right?
A: Tell me again, uh, Kobe, Nash and Pau, I got that. What were the other two?
Q: Jordan Hill and Wes Johnson. Power forward, small forward.
A: Iiiiiiii don’t know. We’ll see about that. I, I, ya know there will be a lot of competition going on. And you know Jordan Hill hasn’t played in a year about, so we’ll see where he comes back from his injury. I wouldn’t count Kaman out. We’ll see how that goes, and Nick Young I wouldn’t count him out. But we can play– The beauty of the– Well, one there’s a lot of competition. You’ve got, Jordan Farmar is going to compete; Steve Blake I think had his best year in a while, he played great last year. So I’m not just automatically going to say Steve is– You know we can play Kobe at the three and at the two. We can play Steve and Steve together, we can play Steve Blake and Farmar together. There’s a lot of combinations that can happen. And really, these guys that come in and they win the battle, then they will settle among themselves. But, uh, I foresee 11 guys playing a lot of minutes and 11 guys getting involved and 11 guys getting to where we can be more up-tempo and put a lot of pressure on teams.

Analysis: NOTE: Steve Blake tied his sixth best season (out of 10 seasons) last year.

Also, Lakers fans, Jordan “Garbage Man” Hill could lose his starting spot to Kaman because he hasn’t played. Or maybe it’s just because D’Antoni has seen Kaman play more than Hill and Kaman takes more jumpers than Hill, which is a terrible thing for Hill because he doesn’t fit into the system.

Nevermind that he’s faster and more athletic than Kaman by leaps and bounds, literally.

So, no sooner had D’Antoni praised his ability to adjust, than he goes and basically favors Kaman over Hill.

Q: What was the process like, the process of try to keep Dwight Howard and what was your reaction when he didn’t stay?
A: Well, everybody has got to make that decision. You can debate it all you want. Only Dwight knows. Obviously, he didn’t think he would be as happy here as he will be in Houston. That might be the case and he had to make that decision. But. uh, there will be a lot of speculation; we tried it, it didn’t work out and we go forward. So be it. You hate it. Dwight’s one of the better centers in the league and it would have been a long-term thing, but I looked at it like, ‘OK, you don’t have Dwight but you got Pau [Gasol]. So, we’ll see. In the short run, we’ll see what happens. In the long run, obviously 10 years from now Dwight might still be playing and maybe Pau is retired, but everybody has got to do [what’s best for them]. It’s hard for me to sit here and criticize or even to understand why he left a place like L.A. That’s kind of mind-boggling a little bit, but that’s in his DNA and what he wants to do.”

Analysis: “Dwight is one of the better centers.” It’s hard to know if D’Antoni really thinks that, or if he was saying it as a slight.

Ya, some people have one of two big men in the league ahead of Howard, but it’s still more rare to hear that he’s not the best than to hear that he is.

Although, it was pretty clear early on that Dwight could not perform to his abilities in this forced system. Even Phil Jackson said it was hard to watch his skills so dwarfed in that setting.

Q: At the end of last season you said the system was screwed up but we fixed it, and now some of the signings are “D’Antoni players.” What system are you running next year?
A: Well, it’s, like, I think because there’s so much talk and so much analytic stuff analyzing. “Coach is doing this–” We all want the same thing. Great ball movement, floor space, people are able to score at a high rate and at the same time don’t sacrifice your defense players, how you are defensively and come together as a group. Every coach has the same system, it’s just– could we be a little more uptempo? I’d like to be. I’ll have to watch the players and see where they can go with it. Do we want to shoot a lot of 3s? Yeah. That’s kind of where the league is going. If you look at it analytically, that’s a better shot than some of the traditional one [foot] inside the arc jumper. It just mathematically makes sense that you want to try to get 3s, layups and foul [shots], and we will try to get a system that maximizes our offense [and] at the same time get better defensively. And that’s going to be the key next year. Can we come together and defend. We can score. We got lots of scorers out there and when you think of our players out there you think, oh the guy can really score and defense might not be the mindset, but can we defend better next year than this year. Can we defend as a group. If we can, we’re going to be really good.

Analysis: And now I give you the second most infuriating answer of this interview.

Mike D’Antoni wants this team to shoot more threes. He wants them to shoot more threes.

Mathematically, D’Antoni couldn’t be more correct: 3 is a larger number than 2.

However, if you look at the best 3-point shooter in the league last year, Jose Calderon, he was shooting 46 percent. There are only two Lakers in the top 50 3-point shooters from last year, and their names are Steve Nash and Steve Blake. Do you want to trust your entire offense to them?

Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks are the only other two Lakers to crack the 100 best long-range shooters in the league at 36 and 35 percent, respectively (just to help you visualize that, they are making 3 ½ baskets out of 10).

However, briefly looking at the top 10 highest scoring players, they rarely, if ever take threes (excluding LeBron James).

That, ladies and gentleman, is math.

Moving on to logic.

If the team is taking long-range shots, that means longer range rebounds. That almost negates the seven feet of all star talent that is waiting to scoop up the boards. Not to mention this team is for the most part old and slow. Chasing down rebounds will only serve to tire them out, and likely result in more turnovers.

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