Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NBA [Print without images]

Thursday, November 15, 2012
Updated: November 16, 12:08 PM ET
Mike D'Antoni leads Lakers practice

By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Mike D'Antoni might have been moving around a little slowly on crutches during his first practice as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday, but he vowed to get his new team playing at a championship level fast.

"As (general manager) Mitch (Kupchak) has said and as I'm sure you guys know, we're built to win this year," D'Antoni said during his introductory news conference. "This is not a project. We have a window and we're going to try to get through it."

Mike D'Antoni
New coach Mike D'Antoni knows the Lakers are built to win this year.

D'Antoni flew into Los Angeles on Wednesday and observed from the sidelines Thursday as his older brother, Dan D'Antoni, a new assistant coach on his staff, ran the team through a variety of shooting and pick-and-roll drills during the hourlong practice.

Mike D'Antoni, the former coach of the Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks, said he would not coach Friday's game against the Suns, instead targeting Sunday against the Houston Rockets as his debut.

D'Antoni, named the NBA's Coach of the Year in 2004-05 after guiding Phoenix to a 62-20 record with Steve Nash running the show, said he will bring his trademark up-tempo offense to the purple and gold.

"We would love to be able to play 'Showtime'-type basketball," D'Antoni said. "Now, they might have done it the best that you can do it. We would like to get some place close to that. I think that would be awesome."

Through eight games, the Lakers are just 3-5, and their 96.5 points-per-game average ranks 20th in the NBA. The Miami Heat entered Thursday tops in the league with a 104.9 points-per-game average. D'Antoni is setting the Lakers' bar much higher.

"I told the team if we're not averaging 110-115 points a game, we need to talk," D'Antoni said. "That's our goal. It should be easily done."

Kobe Bryant, who praised D'Antoni as an "offensive genius" earlier in the week, continued with the compliments Thursday.

"He has a very calm demeanor about himself," Bryant said. "He simplifies the game to its purest form. It's not overcomplicated for him."

Bryant also supported the timing of the hire, even if it meant firing Mike Brown just five games into the season.

"It's better than doing it halfway through the season, if you're going to do it," Bryant said. "For us, we've been struggling, so it's not like we're leaving anything because we never really learned what we were doing in the first place."

There were several questions about Phil Jackson, the 11-time championship-winning coach whom D'Antoni beat out to get the job. D'Antoni acknowledged the scrutiny he faces by being picked over the Zen Master.

"I owe Mitch and the Buss family everything and I'm going to do everything in my power to make it a good decision," D'Antoni said.

A major reason that decision was made is because the Lakers' brass believes the roster should be able to pick up D'Antoni's system rather quickly, thanks in large part to Nash, who won two league MVPs while running the same sets in Phoenix.

"I was just talking to Steve," D'Antoni said. "It's weird. When he feels better, I'll start to feel better. I've said it before, and I don't want to repeat too many lines, but I tried coaching without him and that didn't work too well. So, he's feeling pretty good, so I'm feeling pretty good."

Bryant It's better than doing it halfway through the season, if you're going to do it. For us, we've been struggling, so it's not like we're leaving anything because we never really learned what we were doing in the first place.

-- Kobe Bryant on Mike Brown's firing

Nash (fractured fibula) has missed the Lakers' past six games, but he told reporters Tuesday that he would be back in "one or two weeks." D'Antoni is confident the 38-year-old Nash still can keep his offense running like a fine-tuned machine.

"I think he's going to be great," D'Antoni said. "I can't wait to get him back there. I think he's got another two-to-three years in him. He didn't have a whole lot of speed when he was in Phoenix, so he hasn't lost anything. But he's smart. He's smart. And he can play. Nobody works harder than him. We just got to get his legs back, and I think the people in Los Angeles will come to appreciate an unbelievable player. Unbelievable."

The Lakers' other key offseason acquisition in addition to Nash, Dwight Howard, gives D'Antoni a defensive presence he's never had before. D'Antoni hopes Howard can help him overcome his reputation as a poor defensive coach.

"Maybe he can put the 'D' back in my name," D'Antoni said. "That would be nice. Some people have been taking that out."

Bryant said D'Antoni had a simple message when he first greeted the team Thursday morning.

"Let's go kick ass," Bryant said, quoting his new coach.

Until that butt-kicking can really get going, D'Antoni just wants the team to win in the interim through defense and effort.

"Defensively, we should be a bear," D'Antoni said. "Until we get everything clicking, everything going, we'll rely on our defense to win games."

D'Antoni said he has not made any final decisions on what to do with the assistant coaches from Brown's staff, including interim head coach Bernie Bickerstaff, who will coach the team in Friday's game.

"I didn't want to come in and just go, 'OK, I don't know you, you're a good coach, but I don't like you. I want somebody else,' " D'Antoni said. "That doesn't seem fair to anybody. I think they do a great job and little by little, we'll wean in or out certain elements that I think looks better, or not. That's something that will be determined with Mitch."

D'Antoni, who resigned from the Knicks in March and recently has been dealing with the physical anguish of knee-replacement surgery he had in early November, was in great spirits Thursday, cracking jokes and holding court during a 45-minute media session.

"It's an unbelievable feeling of 'I got a shot,' " D'Antoni said. "This is going to be really good. The stakes are high, but to go back and be able to coach this type of team, this caliber of team, in this city, this weather, are you kidding me? What's not to like?"

The Lakers broke their huddle after D'Antoni's first practice by yelling "championship," stating the expectations being placed upon the new coach loud and clear.

"There's no use hiding it," D'Antoni said. "This is our goal. This is what we should do. When you're on a lot of teams you try to downplay expectations and that always works better for a coach, but no use doing that. That's not going to work. We know what the goal is and let's do it."