Mitch Kupchak Should Change L.A. Lakers' Roster to Fit Mike D'Antoni's Vision

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistDecember 14, 2012

November 20, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA;   Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni, shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24), small forward Metta World Peace (15), power forward Pau Gasol (16) and center Dwight Howard (12) take a time out during the game against the Brooklyn Nets at the Staples Center. Lakers won 95-90. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Mitch Kupchak and the Los Angeles Lakers hired Mike D'Antoni because they believed in his system.

Or at least that's what I'm assuming. Because just by looking at them, you wouldn't be able to tell.

Although D'Antoni undeniably needs to become more vocal and proactive in demanding more from his team, there's no denying he has transformed Los Angeles' offense the best he can.

At 106 points per 100 possessions, the Lakers have the sixth-most efficient offense in the league.

Even their overall defense doesn't imply crisis is afoot. Sure, they're allowing the second-most points (16.2) in transition of any NBA team, but their overall defensive efficiency (102.3) puts them in the middle of the pack.

And yet, the Lakers are still losing, fueled in no small part by the team's cosmetic makeup.

Not everyone on Los Angeles' current docket fits D'Antoni's bill. The success of his system is predicated on ball movement and players who boast a quick release and can hit shots from anywhere on the floor.

But the Lakers don't have that. Not enough of it anyway.

While the coach has to adjust to the personnel he has been provided with, you don't hire a specialized coach such as D'Antoni without being committed to surrounding him with the pieces he needs to succeed. And what he currently needs are players who can spread the floor.

Per Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register, D'Antoni noted as much prior to the beatdown Los Angeles suffered at the hands of New York:

D'Antoni's pregame insight into Knicks' success shed a lot of light on what he wants the Lakers to be: He credited spreading the floor and going small with Carmelo at power forward as "devastating" for defenses. That's why it's still hard to see Pau having a perfect role in D'Antoni's world, where there should not be two post presences and Dwight can't play outside. Pau obviously can be the center when Dwight is resting, but that's not the majority of the minutes. D'Antoni also credited the Knicks' wisdom in having two "two veteran point guards" in Felton and Kidd so that Carmelo "feels comfortable" doing what he does best. Obviously the Lakers don't have their two best veteran point guards healthy: Nash and Blake.

We can't chastise D'Antoni's current adoration of the Knicks roster. They have a star center in Tyson Chandler who can protect the rim and is mobile enough to run high pick-and-rolls with consistent success, Carmelo Anthony has turned himself into an efficient stretch-4 and New York has surrounded the two with lethal shooters.

For D'Antoni, falling in love with the Knicks' current docket simply isn't an option. They're effectively a modern version of his ideal team.

Which also makes them a model for Kupchak and company.

Obviously, there's no denying that Kobe has satisfied the requirements of D'Antoni's offense. There's even solace to be found in Metta World Peace's range and defense. And once Steve Nash comes back, he and Dwight Howard will instantly become the devastating pick-and-roll duo Los Angeles lacks.

Outside of them, however, the Lakers don't have the necessary pieces to succeed.

Right now, Los Angeles has no one who is fueling the dribble penetration. Even with Nash on his way, the Lakers need someone to attack the paint, draw defenses in and open things up for the shooters.

That someone is not Chris Duhon. It's not the inexperienced Darius Morris or injured Steve Blake either.

Enter Delonte West.

If Los Angeles can create a roster spot, it will have room to bring West into the fold, which Marc Stein of reports is a scenario the Lakers are exploring.

No firm decisions made yet but Lakers, I'm told, ARE weighing pros and cons of creating roster spot to sign Delonte West to ease PG crisis

— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) December 12, 2012

Sure, Kupchak and company can dream about acquiring Jose Calderon, but that would cost them the likes of Pau Gasol.

West, by comparison, would bring a polished two-way game to Hollywood. He's a deadly shooter (37.2 percent from downtown for his career) and is one of the best perimeter defenders in recent memory.

He provides a capable stopgap in Nash's absence while also giving the Lakers a legitimate backup point man and drive-and-kick savant upon Nash's return. Toss in his ability to mitigate Los Angeles' mistakes when defending in transition and this pairing is a no-brainer.

Let's not pretend that landing a backup point guard is going to be enough, though—the Lakers need more.

More shooters, to be specific.

Less than a month ago, Los Angeles had showed some interest in creating another opening and latching onto Raja Bell of the Utah Jazz

Nothing ever came to fruition, though, which is a shame because Bell is a perfect fit for this system. Not only has he shot the three-ball at a 40.6 percent clip for his career, but he's played under D'Antoni before. During the three years he spent under D'Antoni, he averaged 13.8 points on 41.6 percent shooting from distance.

But would acquiring a shooter like Bell be enough? 

No, because there's still at least one more pressing issue to be addressed—power forward.

While Antawn Jamison is struggling and is a known poor defender, he's a typical stretch-4, someone who will increase his production once Nash returns. 

Gasol isn't.

He has some range to his game, but his strength isn't hovering outside of the paint. Plus, he's shooting just 28.6 percent outside of nine feet this season. As Ding noted, he's best served when Dwight Howard is off the floor so he can occupy the space beneath the rim.

Logic would then dictate that Gasol be moved to the second unit, where he could play the 5. But that doesn't solve all of Los Angeles' problems. At the expense of Gasol or Jordan Hill, D'Antoni and Kupchak need another stretch forward.

Andrea Bargnani's name has been tossed around, but he's neither healthy nor worth the trouble. Ryan Anderson's name has been thrown around as well, yet it's doubtful the New Orleans Hornets would part with their current leading scorer, even if it means landing Gasol.

One way or the other, the Lakers need to deepen their roster with a capable point guard, additional shooter and stretch forward.

Currently, Los Angeles' rotation is wafer thin, which will hold true upon Nash's and Gasol's return as well. Assuming those two return to the starting lineup, the Lakers will still have a rotation of just seven players who can genuinely make a difference in this season.

That's not going to cut it.

D'Antoni needs depth outside of Jamison and Jodie Meeks that he can rely on. He needs other players who fit his system like a glove.

But he doesn't have that. Until he does—until Kupchak tailors this roster to meet the coach's needs—the Lakers will continue to plummet in the standings.

To the point where the playoffs will become out of reach.

All stats in this article are accurate as of December 13, 2012.


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