Magic Johnson: Getting rid of Mike D’Antoni would blow up Lakers
A month ago, Magic Johnson tweeted that he was in mourning because the Lakers hired Mike D’Antoni over Phil Jackson.
Johnson seems to be feeling only slightly better now. “We want to see signs that this thing is turning around,” he said.
The Lakers, who were expected to be title contenders after acquiring Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, have a disappointing 9-12 record. But even though the Lakers are struggling under D’Antoni, Johnson doesn’t think that the Lakers should make another coaching change.
“Look the season has already been disrupted one time,” Johnson said Tuesday, referring to the firing of coach Mike Brown after five games. “Another change would just blow the whole team up, you’d just lose everybody. The Lakers don’t need another change.”
Instead, Johnson thinks D’Antoni must adjust his run-and-gun style to fit the style of the slower and older players on the roster.
“His system doesn’t fit the talent that the Lakers have,” Johnson said. “You can’t run with this team. Where are the runners? You got one dude who can get up and down the court and that’s Kobe [Bryant]. Ron [Metta World Peace], love him, but he’s slow. Both of our big men, not fast guys. [D’Antoni] has got to say, ‘Maybe I should scale it back.’ ”
Johnson believes D’Antoni’s biggest mistake so far is how he’s used Pau Gasol.
“He’s still one of the best passing big man, I’m sorry, he is the best passing big man in the game, but you have him at the free throw line” waiting for the ball, Johnson said. “That makes no sense. That’s not his game. His game is catch it on the low block, face his man, one dribble left or right, he’s in the cup, nice hook, nice move, because he’s got great moves.”
Gasol, who missed his fifth game Tuesday because of knee tendinitis, has struggled this season, averaging a career-low 12.6 points a game.
“Now all the blame is on his shoulders, like he’s not performing well,” Johnson said of Gasol. “He can’t take that. That’s not who he is. They got to put him in a winning situation because once Gasol starts playing well, I think the team will play well.”
Gasol is widely mentioned in trade rumors. That’s a big mistake, according to Johnson.
Gasol, a four-time All-Star, has career averages of 18.5 points and 9.2 rebounds. Johnson marvels at Gasol’s on-court intelligence and his versatility for a seven-footer.
“Gasol to me is the key to this whole thing,” Johnson said. “But if you continue to have him at the three-point line, he’s not going to perform well because he hasn’t been out there, especially with Phil Jackson and the Lakers. When he was playing in Memphis, he was down low. I got to adjust my system a little bit if I’m the coach, that’s all.”
Johnson also thinks the Lakers must improve on the defensive end.
“They have to get more consistent on defense,” he said. “That’s the main thing now, we can score points but the defense is just breaking down. How does the Orlando Magic score 40 points in the fourth quarter in Staples Center? Are you kidding me? That should never happen. Now if that’s the Thunder, I get that. If that’s the Miami Heat, I get that. So we have to correct our defense. Every night the guys got to come with passion and also a sense of urgency.”
However, Johnson doesn’t think that the season is doomed, just yet.
“We have to remember something about the Lakers: it’s still a long season,” he said. “They can still get it together and still win. We have to remember when the Big Three got together from Miami, they started just like the Lakers did and then they came back and went to the Finals -- even though they lost, but they went to the Finals.”
If the Lakers are going to have a similar outcome, Johnson said, things better start turning around fast.
“I’m not down on [D’Antoni] yet as the coach, I’m waiting,” Johnson said. “Steve [Nash] has got to come back. But this is a critical stretch for them.”
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