In a year defined by injury, Coach
In the closing moments of the Lakers' sweep by the
When D'Antoni took over for
Throughout the season, the team saw players sit about 175 games with
D'Antoni played Bryant heavy, heavy minutes leading up to his Achilles' tendon tear, but Bryant took full responsibility. His specific injury is not considered to be caused by repetitive stress.
"Mike's really going to tell me when to go in and out of the game?" scoffed Bryant after the season. "You guys can't really ride Mike too hard about this.
Climbing out of Jackson's shadow proved impossible for D'Antoni. The team's flirtation with Jackson and apparent snubbing of him for D'Antoni turned public opinion against D'Antoni before the Lakers played a game with him as coach.
D'Antoni had a very specific vision but the Lakers struggled to play without Nash, who was out until late December. When Nash returned, the results weren't much better.
A team meeting after a Jan. 23 loss to the
The Lakers coach consented, as long as the individual players would collectively agree to give a greater effort on the defensive end, especially in transition.
A peace was made and the Lakers went on to win 28 of their final 40, despite playing 20 games without Gasol.
Gasol was rankled throughout the season with an uncomfortable role in the offense, playing away from the basket to make room for Howard in the paint. D'Antoni benched Gasol for a stretch, unsure Howard and Gasol could play together.
By the end of the season, once Gasol was back from a six-week absence because of a foot injury, a chemistry finally began to develop between the two Lakers big men.
How much of the turnaround should be credited to D'Antoni? He adjusted his vision to his roster, kept the team playing despite falling eight games below .500 -- all while facing multiple injuries.
Was it a case of the players taking over and coaching themselves? It's a common question from fans but an unrealistic one -- although the players certainly had a say in changing the style of play.
When the Lakers needed two final wins, after Bryant was out for the season, the team beat both the
Did D'Antoni, who had 32 games of confusion, injuries and inconsistent play, prove himself over the final 40 that he's the right guy for the job? Did he take too long to adjust to the roster he had?
What's the appropriate number of games for a coach to come in without training camp, fresh off of his own knee surgery, with a broken-down, injured roster?
Public perception might suggest D'Antoni be defined by his failure to immediately get results with the Lakers, along with his shaky track record in New York as coach of the
A more-reasoned view would give him some of the credit for the team's turnaround. At worst, D'Antoni should get an incomplete mark for a strange, strange season.
He may be a championship-level coach but to date he's not since the closest he's come to the
has made it clear the team has every intention of keeping D'Antoni next season. Bryant's status is a question mark with the Achilles' tendon injury. Howard, a free agent, has yet to reveal his intentions.
Given the backlash the team received for not hiring Jackson in the first place, they're stuck with D'Antoni until Jackson takes a position with another team, likely in basketball operations. If they fired D'Antoni and didn't hire Jackson any sooner, they'd be right back in the same situation with the next coach.
Of course, if they changed course and brought Jackson back, that'd be an entirely different story, but the Lakers have apparently moved on.