Season is over, but is D'Antoni?

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
11:29
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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SAN ANTONIO -- The Los Angeles Lakers won on Wednesday, bookending the season with a win over the league's No. 1 team in the San Antonio Spurs much the same way they started things off with a surprising win over the Los Angeles Clippers on opening night.

You wouldn't know it from talking to Mike D'Antoni after the game. The coach stood in the cramped AT&T Center hallway outside the visitor's locker room looking as glum as Eeyore, sounding as beaten as an old rug.

[+] EnlargeMike D'Antoni
Chris Covatta/NBAE via Getty ImagesMike D'Antoni had nothing but good things to say about his players after the end of a tough season for the Lakers.
His team did everything he always asked them to do. They shared the ball, with eight out of the nine players to get in the game scoring in double digits. They outrebounded with hustle and heart, even though they were undersized. They spaced the floor, giving their shooters the room and rhythm necessary to go 11-for-27 on 3-pointers (40.7 percent).

It was beautiful basketball, a real life interpretation of the vision how D'Antoni believes the game is meant to be played.

And it cloaked D'Antoni in melancholy as it played out, making him wonder if this would be it for him. Maybe he should take it in one last time, make like Walter White as he revels in the perfect functionality of his lab equipment in his final moments.

It's no secret that his coaching seat has gotten mighty warm in the last couple of months. From the Lakers stumbling to a 27-55 record, the worst season in the history of the franchise since the team moved from Minneapolis to L.A., to Kobe Bryant -- whose relationship with the coach has deteriorated to the point where the two rarely speak to each another -- openly questioning whether D'Antoni should be retained or not, it wouldn't shock anyone if the Lakers showed him the door as they go into one of the most important summers they've ever had.

Yes, the Lakers owe D'Antoni $4 million for next season and yes, several Lakers players -- Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Kent Bazemore, even Jordan Hill -- had career years playing in his system.

But sometimes there needs to be a scapegoat, and in a league that saw 12 of its head coaches fired last season -- including several who led their teams to the playoffs -- the coach is usually the one to go.

Turning 63 next month, D'Antoni isn't old by coaching standards. Sure, some of the references in his jokes are from a bygone era and his hair is as silver as the piping on the Spurs' uniforms, but he still has the energy and the desire to continue to do it.

After the way things ended for him in New York and the way they've gone downhill in L.A., it'd be hard to see him getting another head coaching job in the league if the Lakers do let him go. If you notice, his alma mater, Marshall, still hasn't hired a replacement after firing Tom Herrion more than a month ago. And sure, it's flattering for D'Antoni to be linked to his old stomping grounds with the Thundering Herd. But to leave a life in Manhattan Beach for Huntington, W.Va.? Let's be serious.

If Wednesday's season finale does end up being D'Antoni's last game coaching in the league, it's fitting the Spurs were the opponent. San Antonio was responsible for keeping D'Antoni in the league, hiring him as a scout after his first job in the NBA ended up with him being fired by the Denver Nuggets.

In fact, four of D'Antoni's 12 seasons in the league have come to an end with the Spurs standing on the other side -- twice in the playoffs with Phoenix, once in the playoffs last year when the Lakers were swept out of the first round in embarrassing fashion, and now this year, with the Lakers pulling out an improbable win.

And if San Antonio ends up being the place where D'Antoni's basketball dream went to die, there was enough positivity emanating from the Lakers' postgame locker room that he'll be able to make his peace with it.

"I'm proud of them, they did the best they could," D'Antoni said. "They were dealt a horrible hand and they didn't moan and they didn't disband and they didn't get much support. They had to stand in there with themselves. So, they did a pretty good job."

His players reciprocated those feelings to their coach.

"I think he did great," Robert Sacre said. "I'm 100 percent behind him, no matter what."

Earlier in the day, Young also supported the coach.

"I think he handled everything well," Young said. "He came in on a bad situation -- getting picked over Phil Jackson. He already had a target on his back. So I think he handled all that well. From the boos and 'Fire D'Antoni!' I think he still comes in here with a smile and you can't ask for nothing more from Mike D'Antoni."

Said Meeks: "He did a great job, in my opinion. I have nothing but good things to say about him. He gave me a lot of confidence."

D'Antoni can't feel the same type of confidence in his job status with the Lakers moving forward. That would be foolish.

But he should feel confident he did the best he could with the pieces he had. It's something he can save from a lost season.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Kobe Bryant
PTS AST STL MIN
26.7 4.2 1.3 35.7
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 10.0
AssistsJ. Lin 4.9
StealsR. Price 1.3
BlocksE. Davis 1.4