LOS ANGELES – Don’t look to Mike D’Antoni for any answers when it comes to fixing the Los Angeles Lakers.
You can certainly ask him; just don’t expect to get much of a response. Not yet anyway.
Moments after streamers came down onto the court at Staples Center as the Lakers celebrated a 101-100 win over the Charlotte Bobcats -- a game in which they were behind by as many as 18 points in the third quarter -- D’Antoni could only smile as he sat in front of a room full of speechless reporters.
“It’s hard to ask questions, I know,” D’Antoni said. “I feel for you. I don’t know what to answer and I don’t think you guys know what to ask but I think we’ll try.”
That seems to be D’Antoni’s philosophy when it comes to figuring out the Lakers as well. He might not know the answers but he’s certainly trying to find them.
Coaches normally hate lineup and rotation questions. They’ll tell you they aren’t looking to change anything and if they do, well, you’ll be the last to find out.
D’Antoni, on the other hand, nodded his head Tuesday night whenever he was asked about a player changing his role with the team. Whether that’s Metta World Peace coming off the bench, as he did Tuesday, Jodie Meeks becoming the starting shooting guard, Kobe Bryant moving to small forward or Antawn Jamison and Jordan Hill being taken out of the rotation. Everything is seemingly on the table at the moment and few things, if any, are set in stone.
The first domino in what could be a never-ending spiral of lineup changes this season was Devin Ebanks starting at small forward with World Peace coming off the bench and playing power forward. Ebanks wound up playing less than five minutes but the tweak and the return of Pau Gasol earned Jamison and Hill DNP-CDs and a spot at the end of the bench next to Robert Sacre’s dance party.
“I want (World Peace) to play the four,” D’Antoni said. “We have to be able to change our team. I hate it for Jordan Hill right now, because he's the odd man out. He's played well. He's a good player. But for us to have a different team, a different look, Metta has to play the four. If he starts at the three, then once I get him to the four, it's too many minutes for him. He needs rest. So that's a whole process. And I think Metta, going forward, once he gets more comfortable with the four role, will be very productive as a four and our team will be very productive.”
As D’Antoni explained his reasoning, he finally paused before saying, “That's the thought. We'll keep looking at it.”
These are the kind of thoughts and moves a coach would fiddle with in training camp or the preseason or maybe in the first few games of the season. D’Antoni, of course, didn’t have the luxury of doing that so he is doing it now, as the 12-14 Lakers try to work their way above .500 for the first time since they were 6-5, following D’Antoni’s debut with the team last month.
“I'm just trying to figure out the best way to play the team,” D’Antoni said. “We'll keep looking at film, keep revisiting it. We have a couple of practices, and we'll keep looking at different combinations. And there'll be a couple of times during the season, injuries, sicknesses, illnesses, whatever, that we'll give another look to different people. And hopefully they'll be ready. I hope they understand. I tried to talk to them and get them to understand, but . . .”
Everyone won’t understand right now because D’Antoni doesn’t even fully understand at the moment. He’s still trying to figure out what kind of team he has and he’s not the only one with questions. His players are still trying to figure out what kind of coach they have and how they fit into his system.
Even when Steve Nash returns to the lineup, D’Antoni still wasn’t sure how much that would settle things.
“Obviously, I'll have Nash at the point guard, “ D’Antoni said. “But other than that, I've still got the same little problem.”
That “little” problem is figuring out where to play everyone else around Nash. It may seem like a daunting task at the moment but Kobe Bryant, who has had countless conversations with D’Antoni about his rotations and adjustments, thinks the Lakers are closer to figuring it out than it looks.
“I'm probably the one that's enjoying this process the most because it's the most challenging,” Bryant said. “I'm focused; I enjoy being focused about something and digging my heels in and figuring out the puzzle…. It's coming. We're still going to have peaks and valleys, but it's coming.”