EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Mike D’Antoni circled the court 2 feet at a time, moving smoothly on crutches while his Los Angeles Lakers went through drills orchestrated by his assistant coach and brother, Dan.
Although D’Antoni’s surgically replaced knee is slowing him down a bit, he couldn’t wait any longer to get the Lakers rolling.
D’Antoni formally took over the Lakers yesterday, four days after the slow-starting club hired him to replace Mike Brown. The former Knicks and Suns coach is still on crutches and pain medication, but knee surgery couldn’t keep him away from the Lakers any longer.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak welcomed D’Antoni after practice at a news conference packed with dozens of media members. D’Antoni is likely to make his sideline debut Sunday night against Houston.
“I’m really happy to be here — excited,” D’Antoni said. “(We’re) starting to put stuff in now. Might take a little bit, but Mitch has said, and I’m sure you guys know, we’re built to win this year. This is not a five-year project. We have a window, and we’re going to try to get through it.”
D’Antoni’s affable charm immediately worked on the Lakers, who praised their new coach’s demeanor during their first few hours together. The coach acknowledged few qualms about taking over the star-studded roster that got off to a 1-4 start to the season, speaking instead of the limitless possibilities of the Lakers’ talent within his creative style of coaching.
D’Antoni said he rooted for Jerry West’s Lakers while growing up in 1960s West Virginia, and he won’t have any problem transferring his allegiances after trying to beat the Lakers for so many years in Phoenix. The coach also realizes his up-tempo style of play will mesh nicely with the Lakers’ heritage under Magic Johnson — who has already criticized D’Antoni’s hire.
“We would love to be able to play Showtime-type basketball,” D’Antoni said. “Now, they might have done it the best that you can do it. We would like to get some place close to that. I think that would be awesome.”
Los Angeles has gone 2-1 under interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff since Brown’s firing, and D’Antoni indicated Bickerstaff is likely to run the team at home against Phoenix tonight.