T.J. SIMERS

Mike D'Antoni has been a huge failure with Lakers

The new coach isn't getting anything out of Pau Gasol, his communication skills are lacking and his offense isn't working with the Lakers.

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Mike D'Antoni

Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni calls a play against the Clippers. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / January 4, 2013)

The Lakers have a huge problem and it's not Pau Gasol.

It's the guy who is being paid handsomely to utilize his expertise and get the most out of one of the NBA's top players.

And so far Coach Mike D'Antoni has been a huge failure.

Say what you want about Gasol being a baby at times, soft and maybe not handling things on the court as well as a pro should.

But prima donnas are a part of professional sports and Gasol has already proven himself a worthy NBA competitor.

It's the baby sitters like D'Antoni who have to get the very best out of every one of the different personalities they've been given.

When D'Antoni publicly humiliated Gasol for not being needed with the game on the line, it demonstrated a total misunderstanding of how Gasol handles such things.

It was D'Antoni's job to know better before pulverizing a fragile Gasol.

I'm sure Gasol's knees did hurt, but as Lakers coach, D'Antoni needed Gasol to get off to a good start after fans were left disappointed with Phil Jackson not getting the job.

And Gasol wasn't there for D'Antoni.

How much does human nature factor into a player suddenly needing time off to rest his knees? And how long before he returns?

Maybe that doesn't speak well of Gasol, if true, but what does it matter? The head coach's top priority is pushing the right buttons to maximize a player's skills.

Some folks have suggested trading Gasol because D'Antoni can't get the best out of one of the best players in the game.

Too bad it's not possible to suggest trading the coach for someone who knows talent and how to use it.

D'Antoni has spent his NBA career as a head coach trying to prove his system works. Many NBA teams have stolen aspects of his philosophy.

But he has been a failure in proving it a championship success. And when he arrived here the most casual basketball fan understood it was not a good fit.

But if D'Antoni is as good as so many have said as a coach, shouldn't he find a way to move the Xs and O's around to accommodate the talent here?

It hasn't happened yet.

Will the hiring of D'Antoni go down as one of the Lakers' all-time blunders because he was too stubborn to bend?

Gasol was a lost soul again against the Clippers on Friday night. Benched in the fourth quarter, he made a cameo appearance with 1:07 remaining because Dwight Howard fouled out.

He finished the game with two points, and it's no wonder the Lakers are 15-17.

"He just didn't have a good game," D'Antoni told the media, but couldn't the same be said about D'Antoni?

Gasol told reporters he's at his best when he plays down low and explores other areas on the court.

He said his assignment now is to hang around the free-throw line, his playing time now based on whether he makes his jump shots or misses.

It has already become apparent D'Antoni is not a great communicator. Antawn Jamison has said as much, and Gasol seems to have no idea what D'Antoni wants from him.

D'Antoni operates as if alone on an island. He said he would rather not talk to the media, but required to do so, he said, he will usually lie.

When he arrived, he did so with a light heart and a quick quip. But as he has continued to drag his repaired knee around the country, the medication by his own admission sometimes dulling his senses, he has lost that light heart and become more distant with each loss.

As head coach he remains the central spokesman for the franchise and the great hope for fans for better days ahead.

But he has fallen short here as well. He no longer says, "I don't know" in answer to most questions, but he has already said if he fails, he has a guaranteed contract and will be playing golf again.

It's a great attitude if designed to protect him from getting hurt again, as he was in New York after quitting.

But if he really wanted this job, so much so that he was willing to do it on a painful knee and drugs, then it was on him to build a relationship with both Lakers fans and players.

And how goes that? Do you have confidence in D'Antoni that he has a plan to fix the Lakers' woes? Do you think the players believe they are headed in the right direction?

If the answer is "no" to both questions, then the initial thought process around here that D'Antoni was the wrong answer to what puzzles the Lakers still appears to be the correct one.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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