Los Angeles Lakers: Report Cards
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports
For a franchise that has won 16 titles, any Los Angeles Lakers season that doesn't end with a championship is considered a failure. But rather than just dole out a blanket "F" for the Lakers' disappointing 2012-13 season, we're going to break down each part of the team's production in groups: Our series ends today with the coaching staff and front office. We have already covered the starters this week and the bench backcourt and bench frontcourt last week.
The Lakers had three men roaming the sidelines in 2012-13. Mike Brown coached the team to an 0-8 preseason and 1-4 start to the season and was fired. Bernie Bickerstaff bridged the gap on an interim basis, led the Lakers to a 4-1 record and stayed on the rest of the year as an assistant before being let go. Mike D'Antoni took over and the Lakers went 7-15 in his first 22 games and 28-12 in his final 40 before being swept out of the playoffs.
What will D'Antoni's fate be? On the final day of the regular season, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said D'Antoni had done a "great job" and added, "We don't anticipate any kind of a change."
You could read into the Kupchak's word choice and wonder why he didn't come out and explicitly say, "Mike's job is safe and he is going to coach the Lakers next year," but that's just semantics. Kupchak endorsed D'Antoni again following exit interviews, saying, "To Mike’s credit, he made adjustments. Once we started getting players back and once he started to see what our real strengths were, he was flexible and made adjustments, and that’s when we started to win games and gather momentum.”
Rather than being dropped in and having to swim against the current, as D'Antoni had to do this season, the coach will be able to wade his way into things next season.
Obviously, with a $4 million salary and being handed a roster with as much talent on it as the Lakers have, D'Antoni should have to face some of the music for the Lakers' being ousted from the playoffs so early. However, the deck was stacked against him this season from the ridiculous amount of injuries his team experienced, to not having a training camp, to not being able to pick his own coaching staff. Even Phil Jackson would be challenged to have success under those conditions.
Outlook for 2013-14
D'Antoni should get a fair shake next season to prove that he was the right man for the job. His first order of business should be strengthening his relationship with Dwight Howard, should the big man re-sign with L.A. Right along with that, he'll be charged with shoring up the Lakers' defense that was far too inconsistent, even when L.A. was winning late in the season. And it will be time to figure out what kind of offense he'll be running, combining what he is comfortable coaching with what his players are comfortable executing. The thought is D'Antoni won't be coming off knee replacement surgery and will have more familiar faces on his coaching staff and should be able to display more confidence than he did in Year 1.
C: D'Antoni gets a passing grade for getting L.A. into the playoffs, despite all the injuries it was faced with, but even he would admit that the team should have come together quicker.
For the last several seasons the Lakers operated under a triple axis of power with Kupchak, Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss and Jerry's son, vice president of player personnel Jim Buss, working together to call the shots.
The elder Buss died in February, making a difficult season on the court an even more troublesome one off of it for the Lakers franchise.
Dr. Buss was part of putting the team together, and was reportedly the most vocal supporter of D'Antoni when Jackson was being considered to be brought back. He would be just as disappointed with the way the season ended up as anyone -- he set the championship standard in L.A. -- so it's fair to dole out some criticism to the front office group in this case.
But you have to take into consideration their intentions.
First off, give the Lakers credit for committing to a $100 million payroll plus $30 million in luxury taxes because they felt like they had a chance to win a title this season. None of the 29 other NBA teams do business like that. Lakers fans should feel fortunate that their team's brain trust consistently goes all-in.
Second, even with the disappointing nature of the season, look at how some of their moves panned out. Howard instead of Andrew Bynum, who didn't play a game for Philadelphia all season? Amazing move. Could you imagine how the season would have played out in L.A. had they kept Bynum or even worse, offered him a max extension, and he had to sit out an entire 82-game slate?
Then there is the point guard they traded for, Steve Nash. Yes, paying close to $30 million over three years for someone who will be 41 years old at the end of the contract is extreme. And yes, L.A. leveraged its future to do so by sending off draft picks to Phoenix to acquire Nash. But look at it this way: even with the age and injuries, Nash was still better than the point guard he replaced in Ramon Sessions (Sessions shot just 40.8 percent overall and 30.8 percent from 3 for Charlotte this season compared to 49.7 and 43.8 for Nash) and even though L.A. maybe could have pushed to make the first round pick it sent to the Suns lottery protected, it didn't end up mattering. L.A. made the playoffs, the pick is not in the lottery. Giving up a mid-first round pick in a mediocre draft to add a Hall of Famer to your lineup is a move you make every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
Where the front office gambled and lost was putting together such an aging, top-heavy roster means that there's hardly any money remaining to fill out a viable bench and, consequently, if some of your main players get injured (or all of their main players, in the Lakers' case) you're going to be severely hampered.
L.A.'s lack of roster depth became even more apparent in the playoffs when San Antonio was subbing in their bench unit and not skipping a beat.
Outlook for 2013-14
This summer should reveal a lot about the front office's vision for the future. Should Howard choose to re-sign, L.A. will begin to build the franchise around him for years to come. If Howard chooses to leave, that's when it really gets interesting. Will the Lakers try to revamp one final time while Kobe Bryant is still under contract to try to get Bryant that coveted sixth ring? Or will the team be disciplined and try to clear cap space for the summer of 2014 and start fresh? Who will be amnestied? Who will be traded? What will happen on draft night? As those questions are answered, Kupchak and Jim Buss will form their reputations.
C: When the Lakers' front office was going for broke last summer, nobody thought that meant going for broken bones. They deserve credit for ambition and creativity, but ultimately the end results did not cut it.
In the four starts Blake made after Kobe Bryant went out with season-ending Achilles surgery, Blake was the Lakers’ most consistent offensive threat on the floor. Blake averaged 18.8 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 1.5 steals in those four games -- two wins to end the regular season and get L.A. into the playoffs and two losses to start off the postseason against San Antonio before suffering a season-ending hamstring injury of his own.
The pulled hamstring was a particularly unfortunate way for Blake to go out. The Lakers' injury-plagued season was perhaps cruelest for Blake, as he also missed 27 games during the regular season with a groin and abdomen injury and had the bizarre incident when he stepped on a spike strip in a beach parking lot that caused him to miss a chunk of training camp.
“As everybody knows, it was a tough year injury-wise, not only for myself but for the entire team,” Blake said after his exit interview. “Whenever we took a couple steps forward, there was an injury there to make us take steps back. But, I was pleased with the way I played throughout the year even though I was hurt.”
7.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.8 rpg, 26.1 mpg, .422 fg, .421 3fg -- all of these averages were Blake’s best in his three seasons with L.A.
Outlook for 2013-14
Blake is one of four players on the team -- along with Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace -- who is eligible to be waived via the Lakers’ one-time amnesty clause this summer. At one time, it seemed feasible for L.A. to use it on Blake. Not anymore. Blake’s $4 million deal for the last year of his contract looks like a bargain for next season, especially because the Lakers can’t rely on the 39-year-old Steve Nash to stay healthy all season.
B: Blake was a very important piece for L.A. this season and stepped up when he was needed. His grade would have been better if he hadn’t missed so many games because of injury.
The Lakers had very limited resources available to them last summer to attract free agents and used up half ($1.5 million) of their mini mid-level exception on Meeks. The 6-4 shooting guard had a rocky season in L.A., but eventually settled in along with Blake and Antawn Jamison as one third of the Lakers’ core group off the bench as they made their playoff push.
He certainly had his moments -- a baseline dunk in overtime to seal a win against Houston in the regular season finale, 14 points in a must-have road win in Sacramento late in the season, 12 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter during an incredible comeback in New Orleans, and 21 points on 7-for-8 shooting from deep against Denver -- but he was largely inconsistent. After staying healthy all season, he too fell victim to the injury bug, missing the Lakers’ final three playoff games with a sprained left ankle.
7.9 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 0.9 apg, .387 fg, .357 3fg -- Meeks’ numbers took a dip across the board from his previous season with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Outlook for 2013-14
The Lakers have a team option for Meeks at $1.55 million that Meeks’ camp expects to be exercised. If he can improve his accuracy and consistency, he could be a steal. Plus, with Bryant’s status up in the air for the start of the season as he recovers from his Achilles, Meeks could be leaned on more in the early going. “My shooting was up and down this season for whatever reason. I’ll be ready to come back next year and (get better); this system fits me perfectly and (Mike D’Antoni) has a lot of confidence in me,” Meeks said at after his exit interview.
C: Meeks was an X-factor at times, but hard to trust night-in and night-out.
It’s rare in the NBA for a team to have a player considered a home-grown talent, but Morris fits that description as he matriculated at Winward High School in L.A. and then was plucked in the second round out of Michigan to learn at the feet of Bryant the last two seasons. “He gave me a lot of insight about stuff on and off the court,” Morris said of Bryant. “He became a mentor to me, kept me encouraged, and I really appreciate that.”
If Morris’ rookie year was about improving his body, as he added 15 pounds of muscle, his sophomore season was about getting that body to perform in games. Morris made incremental improvements, most notably on defense, but he still has a lot to learn. He finished off the season strong, however, averaging 14 points and 4 assists in the Lakers’ final three playoff games after Bryant, Nash, Blake and Meeks went out.
4 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 1.6 apg, .388 fg, .364 3fg -- Morris’ points, rebounds and assists all went up from his rookie year, but his shooting percentages slid significantly.
Outlook for 2013-14
Morris could be brought back on a minimum deal. The Lakers like his attitude and work ethic and he likely hasn’t done enough in his two seasons in L.A. to generate much interest around the league. Bryant said the Lakers’ top needs heading into next season were “length, speed and athleticism” and Morris fits two out of three, which isn’t a bad place to start.
C -: After starting 17 games early on in the season, D’Antoni didn’t trust Morris’ decision-making skills enough to play him so much that when L.A. was plagued with injuries, the coach limited his rotation to seven players at times rather than give Morris another shot.
In one of the few feel-good parts of the Lakers’ nightmarish season, Goudelock -- a 2011 second round draft pick by the Lakers and a 2012 training camp cut -- was called up from the D-League shortly before the playoffs, after Bryant was injured. His time back with the team was short as the Lakers’ season was over two weeks after he was signed, but Goudelock reminded everybody why he deserves a chance back in the NBA, averaging 17 points in two starts in Games 3 and 4 against San Antonio.
“I definitely think I’ve come a long way,” Goudelock said at his exit interview. “From getting cut [by the Lakers in training camp], going to the D-League for the whole season, winning the MVP and then coming back and getting significant minutes [in the playoffs] . . . It was crazy.”
12 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 1.0 apg, 1.7 spg, .444 fg, .200 3fg -- Goudelock’s playoff stats in three games played in the first round.
Outlook for 2013-14
Goudelock proved that he can not only dominate the D-League, he can perform in the NBA when the playoffs pressure cooker is on. There are still deficiencies to his game, most notably his lack of size on defense, that won’t make it an automatic for him to latch back onto an NBA roster, but his shooting will give him a chance. Whether that chance will be with the Lakers will be worked out after L.A. goes through its other major offseason moves.
A: Goudelock couldn’t have reasonably done any more with the opportunity he was given. He maximized it.
Duhon was not targeted by L.A., but rather came to the Lakers as part of the Dwight Howard deal to make the numbers work. Ten games into the season, Duhon found himself with an ally in new coach Mike D’Antoni, who coached him back when they were both with the New York Knicks. Injuries to Nash and Blake, coupled with D’Antoni’s trust, gave Duhon an opportunity to start nine games and he filled in capably -- 6.9 points, 5.4 assists and a 42.1 percent mark on his 3-pointers. The nine-year veteran was a back-up and solid bench presence the rest of the season, but seldom used once D’Antoni settled on a shortened rotation when the Lakers were making a late-season push for the playoffs.
2.9 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 2.9 apg, .382 fg, .363 3fg -- Not impressive stats, but his 3.3 assists to turnover ratio was respectable for a point guard.
Outlook for 2013-14
Duhon’s $3.8 million salary for next season can be bought out by the Lakers by June 30 for approximately $1.5 million. L.A will go that route and Duhon will not be back with the team next season. He mentioned in his exit interview that he is interested in getting into coaching.
C: Duhon remained a professional in a topsy-turvy season for the Lakers.