Posted August 27, 2013

Mike D’Antoni thinks Lakers can improve this season, even without Dwight Howard

Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers, Mike D'Antoni, Rob Mahoney
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni sees room for improvement in L.A.'s defensive performance. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni sees room for improvement in L.A.’s defensive performance. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Dwight Howard’s free agent departure wasn’t only a heavy blow to the Lakers’ future, but also a crippling one to the team’s present. Any hope that L.A. had of contending for the title in the coming season left with Howard; his recovery from injury and further integration into the Laker workings sat at the crux of the team’s improvement, to say nothing of how valuable he would have been in stemming any dip in Kobe Bryant’s production as he worked his way back from a torn Achilles tendon.

But life for the Lakers moves on all the same, and this season L.A. will have to do without a superstar-caliber center. For his part, Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni hasn’t let that loss dampen his optimism. In an interview with Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, D’Antoni conveyed his belief that the Lakers can improve upon the 45-37 record — good for the seventh seed in the West — they posted a season ago, Howard’s absence be damned:

“I don’t see why not,” he said. “I think we can be better because I don’t think we reached our potential last year. Our lack of defense came mostly from lack of energy from guys that didn’t feel right in their place on the team. Defense is energy, concentration and the desire to do it.

“If something is sapping that energy — distractions, injuries, not feeling good about the team — then you’re not going to put your heart and soul into it and it comes out on the defensive end. They just didn’t feel each other.”

The “distractions” (primarily associated with Howard’s then-impending free agency) seem overstated in this case, particularly relative to the Lakers injuries. D’Antoni is right in that energy and concentration are crucial to playing effective defense, but in the NBA so is a basic familiarity with one’s teammates. L.A. had its problems with players — Howard included, and perhaps especially — not getting back in transition and rotating at half-speed, but moreover suffered from the lack of rhythm that commonly hits injury-plagued teams. Dealing with Bryant’s freelancing, Steve Nash’s defensive limitations, and Pau Gasol’s lack of foot speed would have been a challenge with a healthy roster, but Howard’s lingering back injury and the periodic absences of both Gasol and Nash made it impossible for the Lakers to ever catch a groove.

A hypothetically healthy Lakers team does have a chance to offer a more consistent defensive front, if still not one within conceivable range of contention or even genuine, bottom-line improvement. That puts D’Antoni somewhere between right and wrong; continuity alone could create an opportunity for the Lakers to play more fundamental defense than the team that ranked 20th in the league last season in points allowed per possession, but the same limitations still exist within the roster and without Howard around to help in any capacity. L.A. can be better in terms of playing off of one another and playing with better energy overall, though even that might not translate to tangible defensive improvement given all the ways that Howard influences opponents’ actions while serving as a back-line defender.

13 comments
Cherrie
Cherrie

Best thing to do is to NOT include Dwight Howard in any conversation. Move on, Lakers!

sportsGuy12
sportsGuy12

If.improvement to D'Antonio is going from 45 wins to 35 wins, then I agree

JeffreyHall1
JeffreyHall1

Injuries will continue to plague this aging team, and as a result, defense and continuity will suffer.

SukeMadiq
SukeMadiq

Wrong coach for a bunch of slow old guys and a shot chucker.

bambam824
bambam824

When Dwight came out of the closet in his head, he knew he couldn't hang in the Lakers Rafters among the Greats, and the Lakers will keep on truckin' with the greatest Laker to ever play the game while taking over MJ's place in scoring history, probably on fewer shots attempted.

alliesohio
alliesohio

Kobe will see this year as his chance to rack up his numbers, forget all that fraud about "winning", forget his low shooting pct, this year he's going for the scoring championship, period.


SukeMadiq
SukeMadiq

Kobe will keep jacking up shots at a low 40% clip... The Lakers are going nowhere.

spiderminion
spiderminion

D'Antoni is a one-trick-pony with an oversized ego 

Wrong hire. Phil Jackson would've put those pieces together last year.

KenCheng
KenCheng

I actually think the Lakers could (ironically) be better than they were last year *because* Dwight isn't there anymore.  Don't get me wrong:  Dwight is a great player, and in the right system, with the right pieces, he could be awesome.  He didn't fit the Lakers' system or makeup at all, however, and as a result, impeded the team.  In time, perhaps, the Lakers could have rebuilt themselves in Dwight's image, but he wasn't going to wait for that to happen.

RobShelley
RobShelley

I still think their bench is their main weakness. If Bryant misses a significant amount of games, it's possible that Nash and Gasol could click and form a deadly pick 'n roll combo. But after those two, what do you have? 

Eman,MasterOfTheUniverse
Eman,MasterOfTheUniverse

@spiderminion I think Jackson's influence is overstated.  He's famous for getting on a team with all the best players and "letting them work through their problems" without calling timeouts and whatnot.  Which I read as "do nothing and get paid for it." Pretty sure I could do that.

Eman,MasterOfTheUniverse
Eman,MasterOfTheUniverse

@KenCheng Rebuilding a team according to what Dwight thinks is important for him will lead to a great defensive team and a horrible offensive team.  You don't want him on the free throw line or taking sweeping hooks that leave him 15 feet from the basket.  You want him devoting all his energy to getting every rebound and dunking it before someone can foul him.