Mike D'Antoni will remain coach
LOS ANGELES -- After the Los Angeles Lakers rallied to beat the Houston Rockets 99-95 in overtime to clinch the seventh seed in the Western Conference playoffs, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak confirmed that head coach Mike D'Antoni will return next season.
"I think under the circumstances, Mike did a great job. We don't anticipate any kind of a change," Kupchak told ESPNLosAngeles.com.
"No training camp, all the injuries, through the end of the season he's done a great job."
D'Antoni took the job under rather remarkable circumstances this November. The Lakers fired Mike Brown just five games into the season, then interviewed three coaches in a 48-hour period before choosing D'Antoni, who was still recovering from knee replacement surgery.
One of those other coaches was, of course, former Lakers coach Phil Jackson. And the specter of the 11-time NBA champion coach, and the road not taken, has hung over the Lakers franchise all season.
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The low point came Jan. 23 in Memphis, when D'Antoni called a team meeting that turned into an emotional, air-it-out session with players and coaches venting their frustrations at how the season had gone.
The Lakers lost that game to fall to 17-25 on the season but rallied to go 28-12 the rest of the way, including a 5-0 mark to close out the season and vault past Houston into the No. 7 seed.
"He doesn't get enough credit, and understandably so," Kupchak said. "We struggled through two-thirds of the season, and expectations were so high. The Lakers didn't help things by making the coaching change and putting Mike in that situation, which he was glad to take. But I think it was a little bit tougher than he thought it would be."
As the season went on, D'Antoni gradually changed his offense to fit the Lakers' personnel and adjusted to numerous injuries.
Every starter for the Lakers missed significant time. Dwight Howard missed time with a shoulder injury, Pau Gasol missed six weeks after tearing the plantar fascia in his right foot, Nash has been out on several occasions (two months with a broken leg, then the past two weeks with hamstring, hip and back issues) and Kobe Bryant was lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon three games ago.
Kupchak credited D'Antoni and his staff for weathering those storms and adjusting his system to better fit the personnel.
"You can watch personnel from 3,000 miles away and think you know a team. But when you get here and you watch the practice and play with that team, it might not be exactly what you thought it was," Kupchak said. "I thought he made adjustments and remained flexible with the players. We're not playing the same way we played when he first got here. We had a chance to look at the team and get to know the players, get to know the bench players, and it's probably different than what he thought."
D'Antoni signed a three-year contract worth $12 million. The Lakers hold a team option on the fourth year of that deal. The Los Angeles Times first reported that D'Antoni will return next year.
The Lakers will face the No. 2-seeded San Antonio Spurs in a first-round playoff series beginning Sunday afternoon.