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New Lakers hire Mike D'Antoni is called 'a true players' coach'

D'Antoni shares history with Steve Nash, whom he coached at Phoenix, and shares links to Italy with Kobe Bryant. He is known to run the offense confidently and give talented players a lot of freedom.

November 12, 2012|By Lisa Dillman, Los Angeles Times
  • Mike D'Antoni shares links to Italy with Kobe Bryant.
Mike D'Antoni shares links to Italy with Kobe Bryant. (Lisa Blumenfeld / Getty…)

About the only thing the once and future Lakers coaches have in common is … well, a first name.

One of the more tumultuous weeks in Lakers history — and that's saying something — has taken the organization from Mike (Brown) to Mike (D'Antoni). They have gone from hiring a coach with no history with two of the team's cornerstones, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, to someone possessing rich and deep back stories with Bryant and Nash.

D'Antoni, 61, will put the ball back in Nash's hands, something the best point guard of his generation will understand from their four seasons together in Phoenix when Nash won two most-valuable-player awards. And he can speak the language of Bryant's youth, Italian, taking Bryant back to his childhood roots. That early impression led Bryant to first wear No. 8 in the NBA as a tribute to D'Antoni's playing days in Italy.

From Milan to Los Angeles.

In between, Bryant joined forces with D'Antoni at the Olympics in London this summer when Team USA won the gold medal with D'Antoni as an assistant on the staff, a repeat of what they did at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. And two of the fiercest, and most bitter, playoff losses of Bryant's career came at the hands of Nash and D'Antoni in 2006 and 2007.

Nothing, of course, is ever forgotten by Bryant. But at one time, it would have been unthinkable to picture Nash in a Lakers uniform, so D'Antoni on the sideline is not such a wild stretch.

"You've got to give them credit for making their move," said Steve Kerr, an NBA analyst for TNT and D'Antoni's former boss with the Suns.

"The Lakers' decisiveness is good. Obviously, it begs the question about the Mike Brown hire in the first place. Obviously, they made a mistake. Once you know you've made a mistake, you've got to move on."

D'Antoni's most recent NBA stop, in New York, ended almost as abruptly, featuring the souring of his relationship with the mercurial Carmelo Anthony. D'Antoni was with the Knicks for four seasons, guiding New York to the playoffs once, before stepping down last season in the midst of a losing streak.

But one of his Knicks players, Baron Davis, a close friend of Nash, said D'Antoni's philosophy will mesh with the Lakers' personnel.

"D'Antoni is a great guy and he has a great offensive system," Davis said via email. "And the Lakers have great offense weapons. Coach D'Antoni is a laid-back guy and a true players' coach."

That was the prevailing theme throughout the league.

Jeremy Lin, whose breakthrough came last season in New York, told reporters in Houston that D'Antoni made his career.

"He gave me confidence in running the offense," Lin said. "He gives his players the confidence and freedom to go out and play to the best of their abilities. That's what he did for me last year."

Kerr agreed that one of D'Antoni's strengths was allowing players to make the most of their talent by encouraging them to "play fast and not stop and think and worry."

"He's extremely competitive and can really show some emotions under fire," Kerr said. "But when the game ends, you get him behind the scenes and he's very funny. He's got a really dry wit, smart and well-read.

"It's always been a quest for him to prove the critics wrong and try to win playing small ball, up-tempo ball. We were close, but we never got over the hump there [in Phoenix]. This is a different team, different personnel."

One result of the regime change will be the end of the long practices of the Brown era.

Kerr played for Brown when he was an assistant in San Antonio. Kerr was impressed by his work ethic, liked playing for him, and spoke about his extensive attention to detail. Still, the thought in Los Angeles was that Brown may have been overworking a veteran Lakers team with long practices.

"From everything I read about his Lakers experience, he was in the office all day long, outworking everybody," Kerr said of Brown.

"But I think that can be overdone. There may have been some of that; I think Mike may have been over-coaching the team a little bit. I'm just sort of guessing.

"Mike [D'Antoni] is the opposite. Mike believes in crisp 45 minute to an hour practices. Get the guys into a good groove and get them out of there, get their rest."

And then there's the one criticism of D'Antoni's coaching style, that defense is a distant second to his offensive schemes.

"But he has to tweak what he has run in the past because of the (Lakers') personnel and then the defense deficiencies of what this team already has," Kerr said. "That would be a challenge for anybody. Whoever the best defensive coach in the league is — it'd be a challenge for him too."

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

twitter.com/reallisa

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