Mike D'Antoni talks expectations
Sometime on Wednesday, Mike D'Antoni will board a flight from New York to Los Angeles, hobbling on a still-healing knee, and step into one of the most high-profile jobs in professional sports.
His interview for the job was short and to the point, and the expectations are crystal clear: Win now. And win it all.
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"I'm going to do everything I can do to win a championship," D'Antoni said Tuesday afternoon on the "Mason and Ireland" show on ESPNLA 710. "If we're not at least in the hunt, a serious hunt, then I've failed as a head coach. I'm comfortable with that."
Adding to the pressure, the Los Angeles Lakers chose D'Antoni over former coach Phil Jackson, who has won 11 NBA titles, including five with the Lakers. Fans in Los Angeles had been chanting Jackson's name in the two games the Lakers have played since firing Mike Brown last Friday.
It seemed to be Jackson's job to turn down, which of course he never did. The Lakers simply chose D'Antoni as their next coach Sunday night before Jackson had a chance to give them an answer on Monday morning. Sources have told ESPN that he intended to accept the position if negotiations between his agent and the Lakers went well.
Earlier Tuesday, D'Antoni told the New York Daily News that he was "stunned" when the Lakers called and offered him the job, effectively passing on Jackson.
"I was surprised in the sense that it seemed like a natural fit," D'Antoni told "Mason and Ireland." "But you never know what happens, so I'm not here to judge one way or the other. I know he's a great coach. Has been, will be, one of the best if not the best ever."
D'Antoni's Suns Flunked Finals
Mike D'Antoni finished first or second in the West from 2004-07 with the Suns. He is one of three coaches since 1996-97 to not reach the Finals over a three-year span despite finishing first or second in the conference.
No Finals despite finishing 1st or 2nd in conference in 3-year span*
|*Last four instances|
The Lakers chose D'Antoni, in part, because they felt his up-tempo offense was a better fit for their current roster than Jackson's Triangle offense, a more complicated system to learn.
But can the Lakers' older, less athletic roster run like D'Antoni's infamous "Seven Seconds or Less" teams in Phoenix?
"This is a completely different team," D'Antoni said. "This team will be more skilled, bigger, a little older, much more experienced and our object will be to find the best shot within the 24-second period. We'll push the tempo a little bit. I think the model will be something like 'Showtime.' But that's hard to reach. That was the best probably it's ever been done, but that's kind of how we will evolve things.
"But I think we can run whatever system in that we know the principles we want to run and we'll tweak it to be efficient."
D'Antoni said he would try to "wean (the Lakers) little by little" on his system because the Lakers' roster is filled with players who "know how to play."
"You have great experienced players (who) you wouldn't try to burden them with too much," he said. "Just let 'em play. I'm not coming in and trying to change everything. These guys know how to play."
It helps that Steve Nash probably knows D'Antoni's system better than the man himself.
"We'll have Steve Nash running the offense and he's really good at getting everybody involved the right way," D'Antoni said. "What makes it really exciting is that everybody's at the point in their career where all they want is the championship. Once you have that settled -- and it should be like that everywhere but it isn't -- once you have that settled, it's like, 'OK, let's sit down and figure this out.' And we definitely have the talent to be able to do that."
D'Antoni said he hasn't yet spoken to Nate McMillan, the former Portland Trail Blazers coach, who has been rumored as a potential assistant who would focus on defense with the Lakers, as he did for USA Basketball.
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But he made it clear that was in the works.
"I think we'd be lucky to be able to have someone like him," D'Antoni said of McMillan. "Are you kidding me? He's great. If I would get him, he wouldn't be here long because he's a head coach in this league."
Hiring McMillan would do a lot to soothe fears about D'Antoni's perceived failures at coaching defense. So does humor.
"Some people say, with my name, they call me Antoni and no D," D'Antoni joked. "I tell you what, I'm taking the D out of Dwight (Howard's) name and putting it into mine. That seems to cure a lot of mistakes."
D'Antoni, of course, earned that nickname in New York, where his stint as coach of the Knicks didn't go as planned.
"It was an experience. I've got the wounds to show it. But I'm a big boy. I can handle it," D'Antoni said of his time in New York.
"We did have prior circumstances, no practices, people playing tired or hurt, a brand new team coming together and they want you to win a championship. So that creates a lot of pressure.
"Then you throw on top of that Linsanity and having that as, not a distraction but a great thing, but having to deal with it. It got to a point where I felt the team and the players were served best if I removed a little bit of an obstacle and put some pressure on players to play hard and bring 'em together and they didn't.
"Obviously, it was not an easy decision. It's not something I would want to go through again, but I thought it was the right decision. Mike Woodson is a great coach, he's doing a great job and I wish him all the best except for when we play them."