Just about everyone on the planet was shocked when the Los Angeles Lakers hired a new head coach and the guy’s name wasn’t Phil Jackson. Even Mike D’Antoni, the man the Lakers hired, admits he was surprised, and also says he’s got friends who are Lakers fans that are disappointed.
D’Antoni knows the pressure is on to win, and to do it immediately. No doubt it’ll be a fun ride to watch.
Mike D’Antoni joined ESPN Radio L.A. with Mason and Ireland to discuss his first reaction to Mike Brown’s firing, how this roster fits with his system, his relationship with Kobe Bryant, they myths that he doesn’t coach defense, what he says to skeptics that wish the Lakers would’ve hired Phil Jackson and his tenure in New York.
What was your initial thought when you heard Mike Brown had been fired?:
“First of all, Mike’s a great friend, good guy, good coach. Things all over the league happen all the time. … The team is built to win a championship this year, next year. They have expectations; I know it’s high. But, at the same time, you look at it and go, ‘Yeah.’ I think any former or ex-NBA coach would die to have that job. That’s a premier job. Obviously, when I heard about the possibility, you get excited about it. Yeah, it was off the charts how excited I was.”
How does this roster fit with the system that you like to coach?:
“I think with everything, especially in today’s society, everything is exaggerated. The seven-seconds-or-less [system] is an exaggeration. I thought we were very good at half-court basketball. … We were built small and quick and young and, yeah, we jacked some shots up in the early seconds. That worked. This is a completely different team. This team will be more skilled, much bigger, a little older, much more experienced. … We’ll push the tempo a little bit. I think the model would be something like Showtime, but that’s hard to reach. That was the best, probably, that’s ever done. … Our current roster right now is great. That’s what gets me excited about coaching. … It was built to win a championship.”
What kind of relationship do you have with Kobe Bryant during your guys’ time with the Olympic team?:
“I think great. As an assistant coach, it’s really good. ‘Hey, get Kobe the ball.’ (laughter). … Kobe is one of the best — has been, will be — players ever. He’s very competitive, intense, and that’s why he has championship rings to prove it. He plays extremely hard. What’s there not to like? I can’t wait to coach him and figure out with him what we need to do to win.”
People seem to assume you hate defense. What are your thoughts on that side of the ball?:
“The easy answer is everyone knows you have to have a balanced team. … If you’re really good offensively, then all your time should go into the defensive end. That’s what we did in Phoenix. We never became great at it. We were small, we were young, but we became good enough to win 62 games and, I thought, we had a chance to win a title.”
What do you say to fans who are skeptical that you were hired over Phil Jackson?:
“First of all, I understand exactly. Are you kidding me? I was surprised. In the sense of seeing the natural fit, or whatever, but you never know what happens or what goes on. … I know he’s a great coach — has been, will be. One of the best, if not the best. I’ve got some really close friends that are Lakers fans, and they were disappointed. That’s the way it goes. I’m going to do everything I can do to win a championship.”
How did you feel about the way things ended in New York and what did you learn from your time there?:
“The simple line, we did have trying circumstances, and a lot of that was no practices, people playing tired, hurt, a brand new team coming together and they want you to win a championship. So that creates a lot of pressure. Throw on top of that Linsanity and having — not a distraction, but a great thing. … It got to a point where I thought the team and players were served best by, I remove a little bit of an obstacle and put some pressure on players to play hard and bring them together. They did it. Obviously it was not an easy decision, not something I’d want to go through again, but I thought it was the right decision. … It was an experience.”
How do you balance trying to win right away with trying to implement your system?:
“I think it’s important, first of all, not to go too quick. There’s time. Second of all, you have great, experienced players that, anyway you wouldn’t try to burden them with too much and just let them play. Then you just try to wean them in little by little, getting everybody on the same page. I’m not coming in and changing everything. These guys know how to play. And then having Steve Nash, who already knows, more or less, is a luxury. Having the best guy that’s played the point guard position the last 10 years, who understands the transition we want to do, makes it a lot easier.”