Lakers look forward to playing for D’Antoni

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.

“It’s just making us
better.”