EL SEGUNDO, California (Reuters) - Mike D‘Antoni, controversially appointed over 11-time NBA championship winner and fan favourite Phil Jackson as the new Lakers head coach, has promised to try to return ‘Showtime’ basketball to Los Angeles.
D‘Antoni is renowned for the offense-minded approach he adopted while in charge of the Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks and said he has set his sights on continuing in the same vein with one of the NBA’s most storied franchises.
“We would love to be able to play ‘Showtime’ basketball,” D‘Antoni told reporters after being formally introduced as the 24th Lakers head coach at the team’s training facility on Thursday, six days after his predecessor Mike Brown was fired.
“We would like to get to some place close to that. That would be awesome.”
The 16-time NBA champion Lakers have made a habit of scaling giddy heights, and their fans will never forget the “Showtime” era from 1979-1989 when Hall of Famers Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar spearheaded the team.
D‘Antoni, who had knee replacement surgery earlier this month, used crutches while conducting his first practice with the Lakers earlier in the day, a session that ended with the players shouting “Championship” as they huddled together.
“There’s no hiding it, that’s our goal,” smiled D‘Antoni, who repeatedly marveled at the abundant talent in his All-Star studded team boasting top players such as Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.
However, the new coach is well aware he faces a narrow window in the drive toward a 17th NBA title with every member of the Lakers starting five aged above 30.
”We’re built to win this year. This is not a project,“ said D‘Antoni. ”We have a window and we’re going to try to get through it.
“But you have to win. If you don’t win, if you come close, it’s not good enough. Most of the time, you don’t want to be in a situation where your expectations are too high and you can’t get to them. But that’s not the case here.”
D‘Antoni was appointed head coach on Monday in a surprise move by the Lakers, who had been widely expected to bring Hall of Famer Jackson out of retirement for a third spell in charge of the team.
Jackson met with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and executive vice president Jim Buss on Saturday and, though contractual terms were not discussed, he told them he would make a final decision on Monday.
However the Lakers instead opted for D‘Antoni and his renowned high-flying offense, offering him a three-year contract for $12 million which was signed both parties late on Sunday.
”Obviously I‘m really happy to be here,“ said D‘Antoni, who had a 388-339 record as head coach of the Denver Nuggets, the Suns and the Knicks. ”I‘m excited. The shock is kind of wearing off.
“Now I’ve got to get into the reality of working,” added the 61-year-old, who takes over a team that limped to a dismal 1-4 start this season before improving to their current 3-5. “I‘m going to do everything in my power to make it a good decision.”
Asked what he thought of disgruntled Lakers fans who had hoped for the return of Jackson, D‘Antoni replied: ”I can understand all the stuff going on. Phil’s a great coach, he was a great coach and always will be a great coach.
”But the reality today is that I’ve got a great group of guys and I am excited. We’ve got an unbelievable offensive team.
“We’ve just got to be sure that we put everything together, get a good balance, a good flow, have goals and understand that the game on Friday is a step on the road to the championship.”
The Lakers host the Suns at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles on Friday but D‘Antoni expects his first game in charge will probably be on Sunday, at home to the Houston Rockets.
“I can get up and around and move, I don’t need a crutch,” he said.
“But I don’t want to move too fast too soon. I want to make sure my stamina is okay. By this weekend I should be fine.”
Editing by Greg Stutchbury