Lakers' Mike D'Antoni gives gift of time to happy, hungry players

Mike D'Antoni, coach of the year?

Whoa. Settle down.

Frank Vogel has the Indiana Pacers at a league-best 14-1 and Terry Stotts has Portland off to a surprising 13-3 start.

Plus, there's always good ol' standby Gregg Popovich, who has everybody wondering how San Antonio is so good year after year (13-2 so far).

But the Lakers are 8-8 with Kobe Bryant playing zero games and Steve Nash playing only six games with teeny-tiny averages (6.7 points, 4.8 assists).

The players are happy too.

It's not as if they are scoring a ton of points, tied for 14th in the NBA at 100.3 a game, and they certainly are not stopping many people defensively (25th, 102.3 points).

But they are winning a lot of close games and enjoying the rewards they get when they play well individually, summed up in a three-word phrase that delights a team with so many players who become free agents next July — more playing time.

"He's done great," Jordan Farmar said of D'Antoni. "He's bringing us all together as a team and making us believe in each other and the system and how we're going to win. I think he's managing personalities really well and the team on the court too.

"Even little things like time-out plays he draws. He does a really good job of reading what the defense is doing and we take advantage of it."

The Lakers' roster has only four players with guaranteed contracts next season: Bryant, Nash, Robert Sacre and Nick Young, who has a player option for $1.2 million.

The rest are either in the final year of their contracts (Pau Gasol, Steve Blake, Jordan Hill, Jodie Meeks) or on one-year deals (Farmar, Chris Kaman, Wesley Johnson, Shawne Williams, Xavier Henry, Ryan Kelly, Elias Harris).

Making things slightly more complicated is that four of the above have contracts that aren't even guaranteed until early January: Williams, Henry, Kelly and Harris.

D'Antoni has managed to mix in minutes for almost everybody heading into Friday's game at Detroit.

"He's playing 10 guys," Meeks said. "I'm sure that's hard to manage but I think he's doing a great job keeping everybody satisfied but at the same time hungry."

That will change when Bryant comes back from his torn Achilles' tendon. Somebody's going to lose time no matter what Bryant looks like. He averaged 38.6 minutes last season.

If Nash ever gets healthy, he'll get some minutes, not that his 22.5 a game have been overly productive.

For now, though, everybody's pleased.

Except D'Antoni.

"I feel we're OK, but I want this group to do something special," he said. "That's our goal. That's why I don't feel great about what we're doing, because we're not special yet. But I think we can get there. I know it might be whistling in the dark, but I really feel it from these guys."

Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan

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