LAS VEGAS – It’s hard to argue that there’s a man in sports who’s seen more drama over the past 18 months than Mike D’Antoni.
Since the beginning of 2012, the Lakers coach has been at the center of everything from Linsanity to the underperforming Lakers to Dwight Howard’s free agency, and it’s only now, a week after Howard’s departure and almost a year and a half after he was dismissed from the Knicks, that things are beginning to even approach normal for him.
D’Antoni was in Las Vegas Sunday to watch the Lakers defeat the Trail Blazers at summer league, and before the game, he sat down with FOX Sports West to talk about what’s transpired this summer and what’s to come for the Lakers as they prepare for what’s sure to be another strange season of basketball.
FOX Sports West: What are your plans for the rest of the summer after you leave Las Vegas?
Mike D’Antoni: We’re just thinking about next year, putting our staff together and getting our team together. We’re almost done. Then we can start planning. I’ll just be wasting time away in Manhattan Beach.
We’ll ramp it up later in the summer, but I’ll give (players) their space for a while. I’m sure they’re clued in to what’s happening. We’ll start ramping it up and draw everybody in, make sure everybody’s on board and going in the right direction, usually about the middle of August. We’ll try to get them to come back at the beginning of September. We start camp a little bit earlier because we go to China this year.
FSW: Obviously it’s been a hectic offseason so far, but how grateful are you to even have an offseason at all after being thrown in in the middle of the season last year?
MD: It’s easier to plan and get things done. I think every year’s fun. Coaching’s fun, so I’m not complaining the other way, but this is a lot better. Some of the best times are training camp and getting your ideas in how you’d like them.
FSW: I imagine you also must be looking forward to having a somewhat healthier team so that you can implement your system, unlike last year.
MD: You hope (you can). Getting injured, we had so many of them. The biggest thing is that practice time is zero. You don’t have many that can practice, and even the guys that are playing, they’re older, and they couldn’t practice. It was a little challenging, but again, it was what it was. We got through it.
FSW: Even so, it’s not like all your injury questions have been answered. Kobe Bryant is still recovering, and so are Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, to some extent. Do you still feel optimistic about the team’s health come training camp?
MD: For sure. Steve, he was battling all year, and Pau, too. To start off, those two guys will be healthy, and then we’ll see where Kobe is. It’ll be much easier to get (Nash and Gasol) on board and then keep them healthy instead of (getting) behind, starting to play guys too many minutes. It just all started spiraling downward. The players did a good job just hanging in there and getting to the playoffs and doing the best they could. I’m pretty happy the way the year ended, except the playoffs.
FSW: Will you be keeping a closer eye on minutes limits this year?
MD: We have a much deeper team this year. I think we just signed Wesley Johnson. I think I can talk about that. That makes us about 10, 11, 12 guys deep that will play, and that will keep minutes from the older guys.
FSW: Speaking of injuries, you’ve now got the issue of when Kobe comes back to deal with. How do you sort of temper his desire to get back as quickly as possible with the fact that you want to be cautious and thorough with his recovery?
MD: You do what you can do. He kind of runs his own empire. We have the best doctors in the world, the best trainers. He’s got to listen to them. It depends on how he feels, (and) nobody knows how he’ll … feel. On that side, I don’t have that much info. I’m not a doctor, and I’m not Kobe.
He’s in the training room every day, so I see him every day. He’s working hard.
FSW: I know you’ve said you wish that amnestying Metta World Peace wouldn’t have been necessary. Is there at least a silver lining there in that you can replace him with a young guy who might not be as susceptible to injury?
MD: It’s always a gamble when you lose a good guy and a good player, but yeah, that’s the thought. Maybe we pull it off. Sometimes you have to mix business with basketball.
FSW: When you look at those replacement guys, the free agents the team is signing, do you have to ignore the fact that they’re all on one-year deals? I know that’s the plan, to scrap it all and rebuild in a year, but if your goal is to develop these guys for the season, do you kind of have to pretend that they’re part of a longer-term plan?
MD: It wouldn’t be fair to them. Everybody’s in this business to make money and have a great career, so we’re looking forward to having guys who are … obviously motivated and obviously want to get it done. We’ll do everything we can whether we have them on the team (in 2014-15) or not. That’s beside the point. It’s really imperative that we develop a trust with them and that they get better.
FSW: On that same note, a lot of people are looking at how the team is building this offseason and wondering if it just shouldn’t tank next year. That’s obviously a pretty big statement from a bunch of armchair GMs, and I’m curious: Can any pro sports team even entertain that kind of plan before a season has even begun? Doesn’t that notion come later, in February or March?
MD: Right now, we expect to have a great season. We expect to go into it hard and do everything we can to win every game possible. You just don’t do it. Plus, it’s a lottery (to get a high draft pick). It’s crazy to think that way.
FSW: Still, tanking or no tanking, the Lakers will have their first-round pick next year. Do you think the team should maybe start trying a bit harder to build through the draft? That’s not something that’s been done in recent years.
MD: It depends. Obviously, you can build through the draft, but you’ve got to be good (at picking). There’s no guarantees. You can’t make mistakes. There’s no guarantees that once you get back you’ll get good again, or that you’ll get good through the draft. … At the same time, it’s important for us to develop players. I’m sure we need to get a good draft pick next year, but we just have to try to hit all the spots (as we build).