Championship or bust for D'Antoni

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Toward the end of his nearly 45-minute introductory news conference as the Los Angeles Lakers' new head coach, Mike D'Antoni was asked to describe his previous stop in New York.

"Arrrhhh!" D'Antoni shrieked with a chuckle.

These days, D'Antoni is practically screaming with joy. He admits he still is shocked the Lakers opted to go with him instead of Phil Jackson, but he's not complaining.

Somehow, D'Antoni went from failing to make Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire mesh to inheriting Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and his beloved former Suns point guard, Steve Nash.

All that his new players talked about on Thursday was winning a championship.

"We didn't quite get there in New York," D'Antoni said. "I think we said, 'Let's win one.' There's no use hiding it. This is our goal and this is what we should do."

D'Antoni recalled his goals when he took over as Knicks coach before the 2008-09 season.

"We had a plan that first two years -- all we are going to do is destroy everything," D'Antoni said. "Not destroy, but we had a plan. We wanted the free-agent market and we built guys' stats up so we could trade them and open up space and set you up for the future.

"I thought it was successful because we made a good run at free agents; it didn't work out," he said. "Go into the third year, we signed Amar'e, which was cool. He did a helluva job. We have a nice young team. And we make the playoffs, we were sixth and then right in the middle of that run, we trade everybody for Melo. Good trade, I think, for the organization. That is what it should have been.

"But then now, everything, expectations are out of the roof, and here we go."

D'Antoni guided the Knicks to 42 victories and a first-round playoff exit in 2010-11. But he lasted only 42 games the next season, resigning after clashing with Anthony.

D'Antoni said he couldn't seem to ever get comfortable without a true point guard like Chauncey Billups to run his system.

"The following year it's a strike and we don't have this and we didn't have a point guard because we had to get Tyson Chandler. Which is a great move for the organization, but you had to get rid of Chauncey Billups," D'Antoni said. "So we are floundering. And when you flounder in New York a little bit, it is hard to overcome the stigma, and players are getting killed. And I am getting killed and trying to fight through it, but it just didn't work out.

"We just struggled, because when we got Tyson we had to give up a point guard and I couldn't figure that out," he said. "Then we had 'Linsanity.' And then 'Linsanity' was another problem but also a great thing."

In an interview with ESPN LA 710 earlier this week, D'Antoni described his New York experience by saying, "I've got the wounds to show it."

D'Antoni felt the pressure of trying to turn the Knicks back into winners and playoff contenders. But in L.A., the expectations are even more suffocating. It's championship and fairytale ending or else, with the Black Mamba enforcing that mandate.

"I think being in New York, he can have some sense of what it is," point guard Chris Duhon, who played two seasons for D'Antoni with the Knicks, said of the pressure to win in L.A. "[But] obviously this is in some way a different animal because this is championship, not [just] making the playoffs."

Bryant, who has known D'Antoni since he was a kid living in Italy when D'Antoni coached there, believes his new head coach will handle the immense expectations just fine despite the fact he isn't the fans' first choice.

"Mike's got a little bit of an [expletive] in him," Bryant said. "He's not going to sit around with the poor-me type of thing. That's not who he is."

As for his reputation for being allergic to defense, D'Antoni perhaps has the best defensive players he has ever coached with Howard, Bryant and Metta World Peace. While he has had the likes of Chandler, Raja Bell and Shawn Marion in the past, he has never possessed an interior force like Howard.

"Maybe he can put the 'D' back in my name, that would be nice," D'Antoni cracked. "Some people been taking that out. That's not fair. He will definitely do that."

D'Antoni sounded like he was the luckiest man in Hollywood. When he first learned he was being considered for the Lakers' job, the former Knicks coach was doing what so many in New York and New Jersey were still doing last weekend -- trying to sort things out in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

"I had no Internet, no TV," said D'Antoni, who was also recovering from knee replacement surgery. "I'm on my back, listening to Motown because that's all I have on my iPad -- all day. And it's like, this is great.

"And it just happened."

Now he has to do something he has never done before: Win an NBA championship. If he fails, he could find himself with an ending similar to his New York tenure.

There is no margin for error like he had when he first took over the Knicks and Donnie Walsh was just trying to get his franchise out of salary cap hell.

D'Antoni doesn't regret his time in New York. But even though he didn't say it, he is happier where he is today despite the championship-or-bust bottom line.

"Madison Square Garden is a special place," D'Antoni said. "We'd win one or two in a row and they'd think we were going to win a championship. But you could feel it. And I am thinking, 'Oh gosh, here we go,' because we are about to be clobbered."

"We had a good shot at getting a lot of good free agents," he said. "But I would not change it, and in the end it didn't work out the way it should have. But I do think the [Knicks'] franchise now is on a great path."