After 125-112 loss to the Houston Rockets, the Lakers are now 15-19 and 11th in the West. This Laker team is now on the verge of becoming the biggest bust in NBA history.
I could say that I feel vindicated by predicting that hiring Mike D'Antoni as head coach wouldn't work out, but he's been even worse than I imagined. D'Antoni has proven to be a remarkably terrible communicator, and it seems like Laker players are close to rebelling against him. His system simply does not work with the Lakers personnel. He's trying to institute a run-and-gun offense when the Lakers don't have runners or gunners. Instead, their older roster is tired out by the system, and they don't have the energy to play solid defense.
Additionally, D'Antoni has no idea how to work big men into his offense, which is a big problem when two of the Lakers best players are big men. It now seems a virtual certainty that Dwight Howard will choose to leave the Lakers after this season. If he felt at home mentally, then he probably wouldn't be missing more than half of his free throws. But the chaos that's engulfed the Lakers year, the system that's not conducive to his game, and his oversensitivity to the Lakers reporting of his shoulder injured have clearly soured him on the organization.
If I were in charge of the Lakers, then I would fire D'Antoni today, putting an end to the "D'Antoni Disaster". I would then let Bernie Bickerstaff coach the team for the rest of the season, knowing that his basic system is probably what the Lakers need right now. It's not good enough to win them the title, but at least they could make a playoff run. I'd then either beg Phil Jackson to come back next year, or hire an up-and-comer like Brian Shaw.
That being said, I doubt the Lakers want to pay three coaching staffs at the same time. So if they're stuck with D'Antoni, they need to recognize 1) Their current roster doesn't work with his system and 2) Dwight Howard isn't going to come back.
And if that's the case, then it's time to break up the Lakers.
The Lakers desperately need to get younger and more athletic. They have to accept that the Clippers have not only surpassed them as the best team in LA, but they've lapped them by about a mile. Now is the time to dramatically retool and try to catch up to them. Fortunately, the Lakers do have several tradable assets.
The most obvious tradable asset is Dwight Howard. Any team that acquires him will be in the best position to sign him long-term. Any team that wants him has to know that it's easier to trade for a star than sign him in the offseason when they're up against the cap. The Brooklyn Nets and Dwight Howard have wanted each other for years, and Brooklyn would happily give up quality center Brook Lopez, dynamic young guard Marshon Brooks, and as many draft picks as they need to. That may not excite Lakers fans, but it's a better haul than losing Howard for nothing. They could also really use those draft picks to rebuild.
Another team that wants Howard is the Atlanta Hawks. They could build some kind of package with Josh Smith or Al Horford, and then couple that with Jeff Teague in hopes of clearing room to sign Chris Paul in the offseason. The Houston Rockets have also been known to value Howard, and they would make a play for him. Cleveland might be open to trading its lottery pick for the chance to pair Howard with Kyrie Irving. I'm sure about six to eight other teams would show interest.
There's other players on the Lakers who can be dealt for value too. Metta World Peace is having one of his best seasons in years and his contract is extremely reasonable. There should be plenty of playoff bound teams that would be willing to sacrifice picks and youth in exchange for World Peace's first-rate defensive skills.
It's bad enough that Mike D'Antoni won't tell the press why he's been benching Antawn Jamison, but it's ridiculous that he won't even tell Jamison. That being said, if D'Antoni refuses to play Jamison, then there are several teams that would love to acquire him and his NBA minimum salary for a playoff run. He should at least be able to command a draft pick.
Next, the Lakers should look to move Steve Nash. In one month, Nash turns 39, and it's obvious that he's lost more than a step. He's a big defensive liability, and his slow recovery from injury was troubling, but not unexpected for a man of his age. Before he loses all of his trade value, the Lakers would be well-served finding a taker for him.
And finally, the Lakers should look to deal Pau Gasol. While most NBA analysts believe Gasol's struggles are attributable to the D'Antoni offense, it has a lot to do with his age and declining play in recent years. Gasol is another player who should be moved before he loses all of his trade value. Atlanta, Houston, and Minnesota have all expressed interest. He might fit in at Memphis where he could play with his brother. There's a decent haul to be gained from Gasol if they can deal him before the deadline.
About the only player the Lakers shouldn't trade is Kobe Bryant. But trading essentially four of their starting five, plus Jamison, could net them a really young and dynamic lineup. It should allow them to become an elite NBA team quickly again with Bryant as their main guy. All of this may sound crazy, but it's a much better option than watching the organization disintegrate into old age luxury tax hell, which they essentially just entered. Their current lineup can't play together, it won't win together, and failure to take bold action now could set the franchise back five to eight years. It took the Chicago Bulls more than a decade to recover from losing Michael Jordan and his teammates.
Much of the blame for this meltdown falls at the feet of Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak. While most up-and-coming teams have invested in advanced statistical analysis systems, the Lakers continue to operate under the "superstar theorem" - meaning as long as they acquire a handful of big names, they'll be great and the rest of the team doesn't matter. While most good NBA teams have quality scouting departments, the Lakers fired many of their scouts in a cost-cutting measure during the NBA Lockout. While a team like the San Antonio Spurs manages to stay competitive with innovative moves and excellent overseas scouting, the Lakers fail to make good picks at an equally low draft position and aren't as creative in working with the salary cap.
There's something to said for the "superstar theorem" since it's worked for the Lakers for so long. It obviously works for other teams too. But this particular group of stars wasn't quite what they thought it would be. The Lakers hired two coaches who ran the wrong system for them. And there is no depth to cover for these mistakes, nor signs to be excited for the future.
The Lakers have already entered a wasteland. The quicker they realize it and act on it, the better off they'll be in the long run.