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Dwight Howard reportedly frustrated with Mike D’Antoni

Dwight-Howard-LakersThe latest news surrounding Dwight Howard and the Los Angeles Lakers should come as a surprise to no one. While most people feel that Howard will return to LA next season if for no other reason than the Lakers can offer him over $30 million more than any other team, the decision may not be that simple.

According to ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin, Howard is reportedly frustrated with Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni. Howard  was one of several Lakers to hold a personal meeting GM Mitch Kupchak after the season, during which sources say he discussed his relationship with D’Antoni.

According to sources with knowledge of the situation, part of the discussion between Howard and Kupchak centered around Howard’s frustration with D’Antoni — particularly how the center felt marginalized as the coach looked to (Kobe) Bryant and Steve Nash for leadership and suggestions and discounted Howard’s voice.

Kobe Bryant is obviously the leader of the Lakers, but apparently Howard felt that his influence over the team was undervalued. That could be one of many reasons he has decided to clear his head before making any decision about his future.

McMenamin also pointed out that Lakers assistant Steve Clifford, who spent five seasons with Howard in Orlando, could potentially leave to take a head coaching job with another team. One source said Clifford’s departure would “remove the buffers” between D’Antoni and Howard and could result in clashing.

The Lakers obviously want Howard to return and the max contract they can offer him gives them a major advantage, but a certain former NBA coach could tell you all about how difficult Howard can make things when he doesn’t get along with the people who are calling the shots. If Howard is planning on staying in LA, the best thing he could do is hammer out the contract before the media makes things ugly.

Kobe Bryant: Mike D’Antoni not at fault for torn Achilles’ tendon

Kobe Bryant AchillesKobe Bryant absolved Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni from all responsibility for his torn Achilles’ tendon injury when he spoke with the media on Tuesday.

Bryant conducted a news conference after the Lakers held their exit meetings following their disappointing season. Bryant took the opportunity to absolve D’Antoni of responsibility for the injury, and he also vouched for teammate Pau Gasol, who may be let go by the team.

Many people have felt that the extraordinary amount of minutes Kobe played in late March and April contributed to his body falling apart and that D’Antoni could (and should) have curbed that.

“Mike’s really going to tell me when to go in and out of the game?” Kobe said bluntly before laughing at the notion.

Bryant said he would have done the same thing again even with hindsight.

Bryant acknowledged that the extra minutes — he played 41 or more minutes in seven straight games, including a full 48 twice — may have played a role in the injury, but he said D’Antoni wasn’t going to stop him from playing.

Bryant said he took his lead from Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, who both would check themselves into games. He also said he behaved the same way — regulating his own minutes — under Phil Jackson.

As far as Gasol goes, Kobe said in no uncertain terms that he wants the Spaniard back.

“I want Pau here. It’s not a question or discussion. He gives us the best chance to win titles,” Bryant said, via Mark Medina.

In the end, most people would probably agree that Bryant’s body broke down because of age and all the minutes he has played throughout his lengthy career (think practice, NBA, summer, international competition, etc.). His extra minutes probably exacerbated the condition. But do you think Kobe would have had it any other way? If the Lakers were in danger of missing the playoffs — as they were — there was no way Kobe was going to let them go down without his best effort.

Mike D’Antoni seemed annoyed by Kobe Bryant tweeting during the game (Video)

Mike-D'Antoni-rolls-eyesThe Los Angeles Lakers were outmatched by the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday night, and one of the main reasons for that was that Kobe Bryant had to watch from home. As you know, Kobe is out for the playoffs with a torn Achilles tendon. In order to stay connected to the team during Game 1, he sent out a series of tweets.

“Post. Post. Post,” Kobe wrote. “Gotta milk Pau (Gasol) in the post right now and (Dwight Howard). What would I do if I was there right now? (I’d say), ‘Pau get your ass on the block and don’t move till you get it.”

A number of people — mostly media members — interpreted Kobe’s coaching from the couch as criticism of LA’s approach. Head coach Mike D’Antoni was asked about it after the game.

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Mike D’Antoni: I was wrong about Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol

Mike D’Antoni was extraordinarily harsh on Pau Gasol when he took over the job as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers in November, but he’s finally softening his stance on the big man.

Gasol returned to the starting lineup on March 25 after missing six weeks with a foot injury. The team has gone 8-2 in its last 10 games — all of which Gasol has played over 30 minutes. Save Sunday’s win over the Spurs, Gasol has been shooting the ball extremely well. He has also been posting great rebound totals (9.7 per game in that span), and averaging 5.6 assists per game over his last 10 contests. His production has not come at the expense of the team’s other big man, Dwight Howard. Howard has routinely shot over 60 percent, grabbed double-digit rebounds and scored over 20 points in recent games.

“I’ve come to realize that we can play with the two big guys,” D’Antoni said in reference to Gasol and Howard while speaking with the media on Tuesday. “I was a little skeptical at first. I think with both of them being close to 100 percent, yeah, they can play together easily. I kind of had a preconceived notion that probably wasn’t right.”

It’s better that D’Antoni made his discovery before it was too late. I honestly thought he was crazy when he was benching Gasol for Earl Clark.

The funny thing is that Howard says nothing is different now from how it was before.

“Nothing has changed,” said Dwight Howard. “We can play together. That’s why they brought us here — so we could play together.”

Though Howard didn’t say it, the big difference is probably the health of the players. Gasol’s conditioning was in question when D’Antoni took over, and D’Antoni was blunt about benching the Spaniard. Maybe the reason Gasol didn’t look so good was because of his knee and foot problems at the time, which have likely improved. We know based on his improved play that Howard is recovering from offseason back surgery.

Maybe the Lakers were not poorly constructed this whole time. Maybe they just were not healthy.

Photo credit: Matthew Emmons, US Presswire

Mike D’Antoni: Lakers should be a top-four team, don’t fear anybody

Mike-D'Antoni-LakersThe Lakers have done a tremendous job over the past five months of reminding sports fans that crowning a paper champion is never a wise decision. With only five games remaining in the regular season, LA is currently on the outside looking in at a Western Conference playoff spot. The Lakers’ loss to the Clippers on Sunday left them one game behind the Jazz, who defeated the Warriors in Golden State.

Prior to Sunday’s game, Mike D’Antoni said his team is not afraid of anyone and that they feel they are one of the four best teams in the West.

Again, nothing is decided on paper. Oh wait, playoff seeding is. The Lakers need to win two more games than the Jazz over the last five, which is not impossible. If they are able to grab the eighth seed and sneak into the playoffs, D’Antoni could turn out to be right. But that will not be an easy task, especially given the way LA has played all season.

The Lakers have home games remaining against the Hornets, Spurs, Warriors and Rockets with one road game against the Blazers. The Jazz have home games against the Thunder and Timberwolves and will also travel to Memphis and Minnesota. Simply put, the Lakers are in serious danger of missing the playoffs altogether.

If LA does get in, they will likely be facing either the Spurs or Thunder in the opening round. Unless we see a completely different Lakers team than the one we’ve seen all year, I highly doubt they can beat either of those two teams in a seven-game series. Motivational tactics like this from D’Antoni seem to go in one ear and out the other.

Photo Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Mike D’Antoni rips into Lakers after loss

Mike-D'Antoni-LakersJust when you thought the Lakers were becoming a threat in the Western Conference, they go out and lose to the Washington Wizards at home. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol returned from injuries Friday, but the team blew a big third quarter lead and lost 103-100. After the game, coach Mike D’Antoni ripped into the team and decried their championship aspirations. D’Antoni’s biggest issue with his team is that they are mentally inconsistent.

“This is a good team that for whatever reason just can’t get collectively, mentally … get stimulated to do it every time,” D’Antoni said, via the Los Angeles Times.

D’Antoni then ranted about the way the team breaks from huddles.

“We put our hands in, and you guys have probably seen it, we say ‘Championship.’ God, that’s laughable. Championship? You’ve got to be kidding me. Until they understand the importance of every possession offensively and defensively and they’ve got to come out with some determination to be a good basketball team, then we’re just fooling ourselves. We’re just making a sham-mockery out of it or whatever you say it is.”

One of D’Antoni’s biggest concerns was that the team did not play hard enough. He thinks they took it easy after building an 18-point lead in the third quarter and began coasting. He’s probably right too — after being up 59-41 in the third, the Lakers allowed the Wizards to close on a 15-4 run and make it a two-point game after three quarters.

Kobe Bryant had 21 points and 11 assists playing 38 minutes in his return from a sprained ankle. Pau Gasol had four points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes playing his first game since Feb. 5. Bryant missed a potential tying three at the end of the game and sent a tweet to explain how he would be moving on from the loss:

Classic Mamba. The Lakers have finally started to look like a playoff team, but they’re still far from being a championship team. That definitely is not happening this season.

Photo Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Mike D’Antoni on hack-a-Dwight Howard: ‘I hate it for the fans’

Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard is one of the worst free throws shooters in the NBA. He is shooting less than 50% from the line this season, and opponents have begun preying on his weakness.

During Tuesday night’s win over the Orlando Magic, Howard went to the free throw line an NBA record-tying 39 times. He converted 25 of those attempts, which is better than expected, but Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni was quick to criticize Orlando’s approach after the game.

“I hate it for the fans,” D’Antoni said according to NBA.com. “They can come to practice for free and watch him shoot 40, 50 foul shots. They don’t even have to pay for the tickets. I’ll invite them all.”

If the Magic’s plan was to foul Dwight in the second half in an attempt to get back into the game, it backfired. Howard found a rhythm and converted 16 of 20 free throws in the final two quarters.

“With any player, if you get 39 cracks at it, it’s only natural for you to gain some type of rhythm,” Magic guard Arron Affalo said. “Usually the percentages kick in when you take five to 10. But when you actually make a few, you gain some confidence, and he did a good job of making them down the stretch for them.”

D’Antoni may not like hack-a-Dwight, but he has made it clear that he does not intend to bench his center late in games because of it. Howard rewarded D’Antoni’s confidence in him by shooting lights out from the line in the second half on Tuesday. The more practice he gets now, the better off he’ll be down the stretch.