Rockets: Buss is wrong to fault Mike D’Antoni for Dwight Howard, LA failure

Mike D'Antoni (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
Mike D'Antoni (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images) /

Los Angeles Lakers President Jeanie Buss had some interesting comments about how current Houston Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni previously failed the Lakers.

Back in the 2012-13 season, a lot was expected of the Los Angeles Lakers. After a second-round loss the season before, they turned to current Houston Rockets Head Coach Mike D’Antoni to work his magic with a roster that included Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and newly acquired Dwight Howard.

Despite boasting a loaded starting five, a combination of a lack of depth and tough competition in the Western Conference made D’Antoni’s first season with the Lakers ho-hum. Although he improved their win total from 41 to 45, the squad was severely outmatched by the San Antonio Spurs in round one of the playoffs, ultimately getting swept by Tim Duncan and company.

After playing just 76 total games with the Lake Show, Howard decided to join James Harden in Houston, declining more money from Los Angeles to play for the Rockets. The disappointing season with the Lakers led many to question exactly what went wrong with D12’s fit with the team.

In an All-Access event the Lakers recently held, current Lakers President Jeanie Buss had some thoughts about why Howard bolted from L.A. to join the Rockets after only one season.

Jeanie Buss said she understood why Dwight Howard left the Lakers initially. “We hired a coach that didn’t respect his game and wasn’t going to put him in a position to succeed.”

— L.A. Times Sports (@latimessports) March 3, 2020

While also blaming the organization itself for their hiring of Mike D’Antoni, Buss tells the panel that his lack of respect for Howard’s game didn’t put the 6-10 center in a position to succeed.

“As a free agent, a player has every right to go to where they will feel the most productive,” continued Buss regarding Dwight’s decision to leave Los Angeles for Houston.

It’s tough to see D’Antoni as the biggest reason Dwight wanted out of L.A. after his first stint there. Although he still was named an NBA All-Star in his first season with the Lakers, Dwight’s time with them was far from smooth, and it didn’t all pertain to Mike.

After Los Angeles started the season just 22-26, Howard hinted at some frustration early on in the season with how many shots Kobe was putting up. Just two days later, Bryant spoke to ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan about Howard’s lack of urgency and sensitivity to criticism:

“Dwight worries too much about what people think,” Bryant told MacMullan. “I told him, ‘You can’t worry about that. It’s holding you back.’ [Howard] says, ‘OK, OK, OK,’ but it’s always hovering around him.”

Kobe’s comments came just a day after he had publicly challenged the center about being able to play through his shoulder injury.

Make no mistake, there’s no doubt that D’Antoni factored into why Dwight opted for the Rockets in free agency. His call for more touches demonstrates just one way he was unhappy with how things were being run in Los Angeles.

Still, it’s hard to see Mike’s coaching schemes being the main reason the Lakers as a whole weren’t as successful as they should’ve been that season.

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Dwight doesn’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to relationships with coaches. Remember when he reportedly called for Stan Van Gundy to be fired with Orlando Magic management and walked into a live interview with the coach moments after SVG confirmed the report?

Howard admitted often during that season that he wasn’t in the shape he needed to be to put out maximum effort, and if there’s one thing you need on a D’Antoni-coached team, it’s maximum effort.

Sure, MDA’s fixation with small ball and run-and-gun offenses has always been there and likely played a part in Dwight not being utilized to his fullest potential. But given all the stories that came out at the time and in the years since, Dwight was just simply not properly ready to give the Lakers what he was capable of giving, and that ultimately doomed the experiment.

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The good news for fans of the Rockets now is that D’Antoni finally has all of the tools at his disposal to do things his way. Time will tell if that will be enough to finally make H-Town become Title Town once again.