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Lakers players surprised but enthused by hiring of Mike D'Antoni

Players expect an adjustment period when the new coach takes over, but some look forward to D'Antoni's up-tempo style of offense.

November 13, 2012|By Lance Pugmire, Los Angeles Times
  • Antawn Jamison called his time with the Lakers so far a "zoo."
Antawn Jamison called his time with the Lakers so far a "zoo." (Paul Buck / EPA )

From Mike Brown's firing, to Phil Jackson's expected return, to the Lakers' hiring Mike D'Antoni as their new coach — all in less than 72 hours.

"It's been a zoo," said veteran forward Antawn Jamison after the Lakers' practice Monday at El Segundo.

"I think everyone had expectations that it'd be Phil from what he brings to the table, how successful he's been, the championships he's brought to the city," Pau Gasol said. "It didn't happen."

D'Antoni's first meeting with the team is pending medical clearance for him to fly, following knee-replacement surgery. A Lakers official was "hopeful" the 61-year-old D'Antoni, who signed a three-year, $12-million deal, could arrive in Los Angeles on Wednesday night and direct practice Thursday.

D'Antoni's selection as Lakers coach surprised the players, but they were mostly enthused about the prospect of playing his celebrated up-tempo offense.

His arrival will mark a reunion with point guard Steve Nash, who won two most-valuable-player awards playing for D'Antoni in Phoenix when the Suns advanced to the 2005 and 2006 Western Conference finals. Nash has missed the last five games because of a small fracture in his left leg.

"With a new coach, there's a process of adjustment, how it's going to look and work," Gasol said. "Everyone's relying on Steve to facilitate that process, but he might not be playing for a bit, so for the rest of the guys, it's new."

Nash and Kobe Bryant did not speak to the media Monday.

"It'll be exciting getting up and down the court. There'll be every opportunity to maximize what you can do on the offensive side," Jamison said of D'Antoni.

That will be a marked change from the deliberate, half-court Princeton offense Brown employed during a 1-4 start that was the team's worst in nearly 20 years.

D'Antoni's system "should be a lot more easier to adjust to than what we were trying to adjust to," Jamison said. "The key is patience. We'll be doing this while preparing for games, as well. … Another month from now, we'll be clicking with the system in place."

All-Star center Dwight Howard, who played under assistant coach D'Antoni on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team, was asked about adapting to his system.

"Do I fit?" Howard repeated. "I think so. He wants to win and we all want to win. We've got to figure out what's best for this team moving forward."

Howard nodded to the concern of how well an up-tempo, pick-and-roll offense can be executed by a veteran roster.

"We've got a lot of old guys," Howard said. Still, he expressed optimism that "we can find a balance. … This will be great for the guys who like to play offense. Young guys, put your straps on. It'll be fun."

Reserve point guard Chris Duhon, who played for D'Antoni with the New York Knicks, said the coach can adapt to his personnel.

"Don't get it wrong, he has plays to slow it down and get guys shots," Duhon said. "His offensive brilliance is amazing."

Duhon said of D'Antoni: "His creative mind is second to none. He's free-going, a player's coach, easy to talk to. Like a teammate, a guy who can make adjustments on the fly. You have a lot of freedom."

That is an extension of the "let-them-play-basketball" style interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff said he's preached in his two wins as coach. Bickerstaff said he spoke to D'Antoni and gave him a briefing on the team.

"I told Mike, 'Hurry up and get here; this seat is hot,'" Bickerstaff said.

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimespugmire

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