Just when everybody thought the Lakers were getting back together with Phil Jackson, they switched course in the middle of the night and went with Mike D'Antoni.
By JOE McDONNELL FS West
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. - Interim
Lakers head coach Bernie Bickerstaff spoke with new head coach Mike D'Antoni on the phone Monday morning. The two have a relationship that goes back to their days with Denver in 1998-99 when they worked together on the coaching staff.
What did they talk about? How the team reacted to the news of D'Antoni's hiring? What kind of offense would they run in LA? Would Bickerstaff like to remain on the new coach's staff?
Nope, none of the above.
“We talked about his knee (replacement) and how it's healing,” Bickerstaff said with a laugh, “because at my age one of those could be right around the corner.”
And so began another wacky day in the basketball soap opera know as The Lake Show, Showtime or many other names—some not always flattering.
After interviewing former head coach Phil Jackson and telling him—according to team TV analyst and one-time Jackson assistant Kurt Rambis—that the job was his, they apparently changed their minds and decided to go with the aggressive offensive style of D'Antoni, rather than the sometimes boring triangle offense favored by Jackson. Jackson also released a statement denying that unreasonable demands were the reason the Lakers went in a different direction.
Lakers' GM Mitch Kupchak explained the reasoning behind the D'Antoni hiring.
"After speaking with several excellent and well-respected coaching candidates, Dr. (Jerry) Buss, Jim (Buss) and I all agreed that Mike was the right person at this time to lead the Lakers forward," Kupchak said in a statement Monday afternoon. "Knowing his style of play and given the current make-up of our roster, we feel Mike is a great fit, are excited to have him as our next head coach and hope he will help our team reach its full potential."
Many of the players seemed to feel the same way, no one really lamenting the fact that Jackson was passed over in favor of D'Antoni.
“I think it's a great system,” said
Metta World Peace when asked about playing for his new coach. “Lots of open threes. And I don't think he's ever had a defender such as myself, or a defender such as Dwight Howard on his teams, so he never gotten to coach (our) type of player, where the defense is self-explanatory. His offense is amazing and it should be fun for the Laker fans.
“I wasn't really surprised (about D'Antoni's hiring instead of Jackson). I don't like to hope for things. I just like to go with what I have; fight with the people I'm with. So, I'm looking forward to it.”
And he promised the new coach will love what he sees from MWP.
“He's never had a guy like Metta World,” he said. “Metta World locking 'em down on that wing, baby. I think guys are going to have fun.”
The world will have to wait another day to find out how
Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash feel about D'Antoni's hiring.
Nash received treatment for his fractured leg and left the facility before the media interviews began. So did Bryant—but for much different reasons.
The Lakers' co-captain came to the aid of teammate Steve Blake, who had scheduled an ultrasound on his abdominal area. He wouldn't have been able to make the appointment in Orange County on time, but Bryant stepped in and offered to give Blake a ride—in Bryant's helicopter. Instead of traversing the often-crowded Southern California freeways in order to get to practices and games from his Orange County home, Bryant often flies in his private helicopter.
Blake was in need, and Bryant was a friend, indeed.
Again, a day in the life of a professional sports franchise that is truly like no other.
Two players who looked like they were happy about the decision to move to a coach with an up-tempo offense were Pau Gasol and Antawn Jamison.
A four-time All Star, Gasol has seen his average drop to a career-low 14.3 points per game, and has recorded a miserable shooting percentage of .414. The power forward sounded excited talking about new possibilities.
“It should be a fun system to play in,” Gasol said, “lots of opportunities and an unselfish type of game. We're all looking forward to getting started working in it. I'll be trying to adjust to the principles of the new offense and hopefully it will work out.”
Jamison came to the Lakers with a career scoring average of 19.5 points in 14 NBA seasons. Under the offense instituted by deposed head coach Mike Brown, the former North Carolina Tar Heel had been averaging just 3.6 points per game while shooting .348 from the field. When asked if he was looking forward to playing in the new system, Jamison smiled wearily and said he would “be excited about playing basketball again, period. (In the new offense) you get up and down the court and have every opportunity you can to maximize what you can do on the offensive end. We know what he like to do and we have the pieces to do it.”
One of them, of course, is Dwight Howard, who will be playing for his third coach and in his third offensive system in less than seven months. One of the reasons the six-time All Star wanted out of Orlando was because of the turmoil surrounding him and the Magic team on and off the court—especially his up and down relationship with then-coach Stan Van Gundy.
While you'd think Howard would be wondering what he got himself into coming to the Lakers, it's actually the opposite. He's says he's very happy being with the Lakers despite the daytime drama atmosphere.
“It's not disappointing,” said Howard. “Like I told the guys—everything happens for a reason. There's a reason why we've been through so much so early this season. I think it's good for our team. It's good for the chemistry and it's good for us to show how strong we are as individuals and as a team.