Mike D'Antoni, Part II, begins in his second-floor office inside the Lakers' El Segundo training facility. On the basketball court below a group of young players are going through an early morning workout before heading to Las Vegas to represent the Lakers in the NBA summer league. "We've got some interesting players," D'Antoni said. "We're trying to get more athletic." The deliberate, low-key atmosphere on this mid-summer morning is in stark contrast to the frenzied storm that welcomed D'Antoni the moment he replaced Mike Brown as the Lakers coach one week into last season. It also serves as a poignant reminder of everything D'Antoni never was afforded as he tried to navigate the Lakers through the troubled waters of a turbulent season that never quite found a steady course. Namely a summer to prepare, a training camp, a healthy roster, a content Dwight Howard, a unified team, a roster that fit his preferred style of play, the backing of the fans and the non-threatening shadow of a certain former coach an entire city was prepared to embrace as Brown's replacement. The lack of which helped sabotage D'Antoni's first season with the Lakers. "He came in and there was just so much going on," Lakers guard Steve Nash said. "There were so many injuries and new players who had just spent all training camp trying to learn (Brown's) complicated offense. And then Mike comes in and we changed to a completely different system. "It was a tough situation and it was just really hard for him to put his mark on the team." In other words, it was nothing like D'Antoni envisioned when he accepted the Lakers offer. "It's such a great job that you only look at the positives," D'Antoni said. So when he hobbled to Los Angeles from New York shortly after undergoing knee surgery eight months ago he thought he was taking over a championship-caliber team that featured Kobe Bryant, the greatest player of his generation, and the endless possibilities of Nash and Howard on the pick and roll. "Steve Nash and Dwight Howard on the pick and roll, and that's what I do?" D'Antoni remembers, wistfully. "I just thought, 'Boy, that's gonna be a staple.' " Instead he ran smack into a hornet's nest. Howard never was completely healthy and refused to buy into his role. He fancied himself as a dominating low-post force the offense should run through. "There was just a lot of conflict, emotionally," D'Antoni said. "People were not settled in their roles. But it's funny because a lot of times players will say 'I don't know my role.' It's not that you don't know it, you just don't accept it." Howard never accepted his, although appeasing him as a prominent low-post option also wasn't practical because he simply wasn't healthy enough to carry that load. "The only thing that cracks me up is (the question) 'Why didn't you go through him more?' " D'Antoni said. "Well, he was hurt. Why would we go through him if he's hurt? You have to (factor) that in. Why would we do that with Kobe and Nash and (Pau) Gasol on the floor? That doesn't make a lot of sense." There were other issues working against D'Antoni. Nash went down in the second game of the season and missed the next seven weeks. That severely stunted the transition from Brown's so-called Princeton offense to D'Antoni's system. Gasol missed 33 games, and it wasn't until the end of the season a proper balance was struck to conciliate the skills and needs of him and Howard. Meanwhile, upon building up hope the Lakers would lure Phil Jackson out of retirement, fans were irate when they hired D'Antoni instead - anger they never held back throughout the season. "I knew there would be some backlash. I mean my goodness it's Phil Jackson," D'Antoni said. "But I also felt had we won, all of that would have subsided. But we didn't, initially, and when you aren't winning people are going to find anything to get you with."
Mike D'Antoni ready for Act II minus Dwight Howard
L.A. Daily News | Jul 17