TRANSCRIPT: Mike D'Antoni Introductory Press Conference
D’Antoni: Obviously, I’m really happy to be here. I’m excited to start putting this stuff in now. It might take a little bit, but as Mitch has said, and I’m sure you guys know, we’re built to win this year. This is not a project. We have a window and we’ll try to get through it. I’m excited. It’s going to take a little while to get things up to snuff, and then we’ll go from there.
Q: On level of surprise at being coach now:
D’Antoni: I was shocked and that’s kind of wearing off. Like everybody else, it goes through a process of being hired and not hired. I just feel really great about the possibility. I owe Mitch (Kupchak) and the Buss family everything. I’m going to do everything in my power to make it a good decision. I understand all the stuff that went on. Phil is a great coach, and will be a great coach with all he’s done. The reality of today is that I have a great group of guys, I’m looking forward to it and I’m excited. Magic (Johnson) – when you think of the Lakers, you think of him. We want to be able to play Showtime type basketball. They might have done it the best that you can do it. We want to get to someplace close to that and that will be awesome. But that’s the type of basketball, so no better person to talk to and pick his brain, so we’re going to him.
Q: On being comfortable with the situation he’s in and the expectations to win:
It’s basketball. I’ve coached Steve and I know how much fun that is. I’ve coached Kobe and I’ve coached Dwight. I know the possibilities that we have. It’s endless. We have to win we don’t win it or come close, it’s not good enough. That’s almost in every organization. Your expectations are something. Most of the time, you don’t want to be in a situation where your expectations are too high and you can’t get them up there. That’s not the case here. Our expectations are to win a championship. We have the team and players to do that. I can’t think of a better group, a better city and a better fan base to try and get it done.
Q: On when he might return to the sidelines:
D’Antoni: I was talking to Steve. When he feels better, I’ll start to feel better. I don’t want to repeat too many lines, but I tried coaching without him and that didn’t work too well. He said he’s feeling good, so I’m feeling good, but we’ll see. Probably this weekend or something. But I can get up and around, and move. I don’t need a crutch. It’s still stiff here and there, but we’re putting stuff in. I don’t want to go fast, too soon. I want to make sure my stamina is good, but by this weekend, I should be fine.
Q: On what he thought of this team before he came on:
D’Antoni: A really good team. Just great individual talent. It comes pretty simple: we’re going to have to be a great offensive team and great defensive team. You got Dwight Howard – Defensive Player of the Year. Kobe (Bryant) – definitely on the (NBA All-Defensive) First Team. You got defenders, you got unbelievable offensive geniuses. So we just got to make sure we put everything together, get a good balance, a good flow, have goals and understand that in the game Friday, it’s a step on the road to a championship. We can’t (will) ourselves all the way to June. We got to play the regular season. I know here that sometimes you say: ‘Let’s get this over with.’ But it’s important to lay the foundation. The assembly of players and the experience that is here, is incredible right now.
Q: On when he expects to coach:
D’Antoni: Not Friday. Probably Sunday.
Q: On when he expects team to pick up offense:
D’Antoni: With Steve Nash, when we got him in Phoenix, it took him an hour and a half. We threw him out there and we couldn’t get off the floor. I expect the same thing. He’ll run the offense like nothing. For the other guys, it’s very simple. He’s a big part of it; we got Steve Blake coming back and he’s a big part of it. (Chris) Duhon knows it already, so that’s cool. We’ll get the other guys up to snuff. But the process should not be long and it should not be tedious at all. The good thing about it is, defensively, we should be a bear. Until we get everything clicking and everything going, we’ll be relying on our defense to win games.
Q: On breaking practice with a ‘1, 2, 3 championship chant:’
D’Antoni: Here, that’s our goal. When you’re on a lot of teams, you try to downplay expectations and that always works better for a coach. As long as we know what the goal is, then let’s do it.
Q: On what it means having Dwight Howard to anchor the defense:
D’Antoni: Everything. He will absolutely control the game on both ends of the floor. He’s the dominant center in the league. There’s nobody else like him. I just think, right now, he’s playing at 75 to 80 percent at what he can do. Every month, he’ll get better with his back, his timing and get comfortable with what we do. You’re already good just with him. I don’t care who you put around him. You put him with the guys we have, there’s a reason why we’re great.
Q: On what Dwight will do for him defensively and what he can do for Dwight offensively:
D’Antoni: He might be able to put the ‘D’ back in my name. That’ll be nice. Some people have been taking that out – not fair. But he’ll definitely do that. I don’t know if I’ll do anything for him offensively. Steve Nash better do something for him or Steve Blake. He’s going to be good. Our offensive philosophy – we just have a rhythm to it, open the floor up and make things as easy as we can with some great players. You do that, things flow. Nothing is set in stone. I don’t know exactly how the team will look, but you keep watching film, you keep tinkering with it, you have principles that you’re going to do and the players will figure it out with their talent levels. Their talent level is off the charts. You talk about Dwight, Steve (Nash), Kobe (Bryant), Metta World Peace and Pau Gasol and on and on and on. I could talk about Pau Gasol being the best big man that’s played the game in a lot of years – skilled (big man) for sure. That’s just one guy. MWP is one of the best defensive guys forever. He can hit 3’s, he can do a pick and roll. It’s our job and Steve’s job to get everybody on the same page and understanding that: ‘Hey, this is how we’re going to win a championship.’
Q: On if he’s had this kind of defensive presence:
D’Antoni: I hope I haven’t. If I have, I really can’t coach. I hope I haven’t had that. I don’t think so. Dwight’s kind of unique. I have coached good guys that I used to make joke about, but we’ve some good defensive guys on the team. Tyson Chandler is up there, Raja Bell, Shawn Marion – all those guys are really good defensively. They took some criticism – it’s OK and I understand, but it’s a little undoing. They’re better than what they get credit for.
Q: On what is the biggest obstacle facing him coming into this situation:
D’Antoni: I think that’s the biggest challenge – we don’t have a camp. The work we’re normally doing in practice now, we’re doing that in September. We’ve got a lot of ground to catch up. But the good part is they’re great players, so they catch up pretty quick. That’s the only pressure. When I’m in Phoenix and you got a trophy guy running around I wonder what they want us to win. They want you to win a trophy. It’s everywhere. If you have the talent, people will look at it and say: ‘Well, they should win a championship.’ Miami has the same thing, OKC has the same thing and the Clippers have the same thing. Everybody has that same pressure on them, and the pressure is on the coach.
Q: On why it didn’t work in New York:
D’Antoni: We had a plan that the first three years, we wanted to(test) the free agent market, and we built guys stats up so we could trade them, and open up space, and set yourself up for the future. I thought it was successful because we made a good run at free agents, but it didn’t work out. Going into the third year, we signed Amar’e (Stoudemire). We had a nice young team and we made the playoffs. Right in the middle of that run, we trade everybody for Carmelo (Anthony). Good trade for the organization and I thought that’s what they should have done. Now expectations are here we go. We go into the following year and it’s a strike. We didn’t have a point guard because we had to get Tyson Chandler, which is a great move for the organization, but we had to get rid of Chauncey (Billups). So we’re floundering, and when you flounder for a bit in New York a little bit, it’s hard to overcome the stigma. Players are getting killed and I’m getting killed. I’m trying to fight through it, but it just didn’t work out.
Q: On what he wants to do with the assistant coaches:
D’Antoni: Going slow, working with Mitch (Kupchak) and figuring it out. The coaching staff is great; these guys are good I didn’t want to come in and go: ‘I don’t know you, you’re a good coach, but I don’t like you and I want somebody else. That doesn’t seem fair to anybody. I think they do a great job. Little by little, we’ll wean in or out certain elements that I feel looks better or not. That’s something that will be determined by Mitch.
Q: On keeping the assistant coaches around:
D’Antoni: I think everything is possible.
Q: On what he can do for Pau Gasol’s game:
D’Antoni: I just want him comfortable in what he does. You try to coach and scheme against him and it’s not easy. I think Pau is going to be great. I can’t’ wait to work with him. He’ll play some four he’ll play some five, we’ll try to open it a little bit more for him. We’ll move him around and get him comfortable in all kinds of elements. I know players are critical a lot about not being tough enough. I don’t buy into that. He’s a tough guy and a skilled guy. Sometimes you get outside of what you do. What he does is great and I’m going to get him do what he does. Jodie Meeks, for example: I told him today the only time he needs to shoot is when he touches the ball. Other than that, don’t shoot. That’s what he does. He’s not in the league because he can drive and dish – that’s not him. When players understand that and they’re in the league for a reason, and that’s the strengths they play to and we don’t worry about the other stuff, he doesn’t need to be in that position because he never would have made the league if that’s what we wanted. We look at the positives and try to accentuate it. Again, so many players have so many positives and that’s what makes this team unique.
Q: On fitting all the pieces in together:
D’Antoni: Easily, easily. First of all, Pau (Gasol) can go out there 15-20 feet and he can make shots. There’s no reason why he’s not a great 20-foot shooter. There’s no reason whatsoever. If he doesn’t hesitate and he’s comfortable, there’s no reason. He’s spacing the floor. When Shaq (O’Neal) came to Phoenix, we averaged 115 points with Shaq. I told the team if we’re not averaging 115 points per game, then we need to talk. That’s our goal and it should be easily done. There will be bumps along the way and I’m sure you guys will write: ‘Hey they’re jacking 3’s all the time.’ There will be times like that and we’ll talk about it. There’s just so many weapons we got. If they start feeling good about themselves – and they have to bring the energy – there’s no reason why we don’t offensively go off the charts. If we go off the charts offensively, then defensively, we should be really good. I haven’t had that combo and we have it here.
Q: On the feeling of wearing the Lakers logo after so many years battling them in Phoenix:
D’Antoni: It’s great. I came in here and I hated you guys forever, and you all hated me. I grew up in West Virginia in the ‘60s, so guess who I rooted for? I lived and died with you guys during those Boston series. As soon as Mitch (Kupchak) gave me the word, I loved you guys.
Q: On being away from the game:
D’Antoni: I wasn’t away long enough to get any urges. I was trying to get through away from the hurricane that devastated the East. I was trying to get on my feet again. I thought for sure I’d sit out a year or half a year. I was getting antsy. I want to coach every day. There’s nothing better than the job I have. I’d be lying saying that I’m a victim of anything. Again, I’ve been lucky, I’m excited, and ready to get this thing going.
Q: On any nervous expectations coming in:
D’Antoni: I love basketball. I don’t do anything else. I can’t do anything else. I’m always going to be in here, talking to Mitch (Kupchak), to my coaches or to the players. That’s the fun part of it – the journey. When I get up in the morning, I’m ready to go.
Q: On his brother coaching at practice and how much he was able to do at practice:
D’Antoni: He’ll do that, but pretty much, I can limp around and yell. They’re going to listen to half of what I say anyway, so they got it. My biggest thing right now is I don’t want to put too much out there. We’re going to win some games by the energy level and by just playing until we get things sorted out. It’s a big home stand. We need to take care of business and every day is going to be easier. When we get Steve Nash, it’s going to be a lot easier because he knows the offense.
Q: On if he will get a fair chance to coach this team:
D’Antoni: If we win a championship, I’ll get a fair shake. I think everybody knows the deal. Winning takes care of a lot of stuff. I know it’s a joke, but I have some really dear Laker friends that were disappointed I got the job. I know that. Like I said, Phil (Jackson) is a great, great coach. But the reality is, I’m extremely fortunate that they went this direction and I’m going to make it everything I can do to win. I can’t wait to get started.
Q: On making adjustments because of roster personnel:
D’Antoni: None. That was the same question they gave me eight years ago with Steve Nash. How are you going to protect him and how is he going to be able to play. That was eight years ago. I told somebody the other day: ‘Well, what are you going to do with Nash?’ It’s going to be the same thing I did: ‘Take care of it and cut his minutes down.’ Same with Kobe. Every time we want to win, they’re going to play a lot and that’s just the way it is. I do have to watch it and be a little cute with it, but that’s something that Steve looks at it and is fine.
Q: On his relationship with Kobe:
D’Antoni: He’s a little kid about 12 years old. I come out on the court in Italy, we’d hang out and play and we’d have to beat him off the court to start the second half. I’d never envision he’d grow up to be Kobe Bryant, but that’s where the relationship started. Americans in Europe usually flock together and eat after games, so I got to know his parents really well. Something about him is – I’ve said this during the time we were having battles – that’s the most competitive guy I’ve ever been around. Whether it’s an All-Star game or a pick-up game, he’s coming after you. That’s why he has the rings he has and has the career that he’s had. That’s not going to change. His intensity is something, as a coach, I love it.
Q: On how meaningful it is for Kobe to have his backing as head coach:
D’Antoni: It does. I told him that, and there’s no doubt about it. Again, it’s a great opportunity for me.
Q: On how Kobe fits into this offense:
D’Antoni: What we’re trying to do is open the floor up it’ll come naturally we just got to make sure a lot of our offense I point guard driven. We got to make sure that he’s in the flow all the time and he needs to be in attack mode. I like him when he’s that. He can’t be too over aggressive. I think his offense is built to where it’ll enhance what he does and hopefully it’ll make it easier in what he does. I do know you can drop him anywhere hand he can average 25-30 points. I’m not going to coach him down and that should be the bottom line. We’ll see if we can help him out as much. Now that he has the chance to figure that out in the heat of the game. I like the offense to flow, the ball should find everyone and our best guys. We don’t call plays. I hate when guys say: ‘Hey I didn’t get my touches.’ It doesn’t make sense. Everybody has touches. That ball should go around. If Kobe is being double teamed, we’ll put him someplace else. He a unique player and he’s playing great right now. He’s letting everything come to him and he’s very efficient. We want get that from everybody – that they’re efficient, that everything is easy and nothing is forced.
Q: On his biggest challenge:
D’Antoni: Just starting a little late. I think that you’re largely here to win a championship. That’s not easy on any level because things have to go right. Those are things out of your control and I don’t worry about that. I worry about making sure that I communicate with the player and we’re all pulling in the same direction. If we do that, then everybody else works out. I’ve been around long enough, and you hate to ever say it, but stuff happens. People get hurt, you’re not quite here or you’re not clicking. I also know that we might not be to fruition but this is a great team and a city to have an up tempo, exciting team that has a legitimate shot at winning a championship. That’s all I can ask for as a coach. I can’t ask for anything more.
Q: On playing fast:
D’Antoni: Books, papers and articles are funny because they have that catch line: ‘seven second or less.” I don’t even know how that came about, but that’s OK. My whole philosophy is 24 seconds or less. I don’t care if it’s seven, 10 or 20. You just have to get one good shot in those 24 seconds and that’s what we’ll do. I’ll expect us to be a little bit more up tempo – not seven seconds. There’s no reason why there’s not a great flow, whether that’s 13 seconds or 20 seconds. I was talking with Steve: ‘You have the best team, so why not play the most possessions you can play if you’re the best defensively and offensively?’ Anytime possessions are cut down, then a bad call, a missed shot then you have a chance to lose. If we keep possessions up here, then statistically, we have a lot better chance to win. That’s what we’re going to try and do. Whatever comes out, it’s going to be an efficient offensive team and an efficient defensive team.
Q: On the center position’s role in his offense:
D’Antoni: They’re the force that really it all starts with them. I know the point guard is the guy that’s running the show, but I told Dwight today and he can be in every play. We don’t call plays. He can run down, pick the ball and he’s rolling to the basket. One of the least efficient plays in basketball is a straight post up. It’s just not efficient. What we want to do is create a pick and roll situation where they switch, we go in and now the percentage goes up. He’s such a force going to the basket that you have your kick outs and you have your 3-point shot wide open. His touches should increase, his ability to be able to get to the rim should increase and it should be a lot easier for Dwight.
Q: On the advantages of using his system with the team:
D’Antoni: The advantage is if you have good players, it’ll work. If you have bad players, it doesn’t work. That would be anyone, but I’m really lucky to have Steve Nash, who’s done this. Every time June rolls around: ‘What about Steve Blake?’ I’ve been trying to get him for 10 years. We always tried to get him I think he’s perfect for our system. (It) starts there with your smart players and I feel like you’re not going to outcoach every coach. Everybody is too prepared, everybody works too hard and you think I’m going to figure out something they haven’t figured out? You just don’t do that. Players eventually have to be accountable and win the game for you.
Q: On what was going through his mind when the job opened up:
D’Antoni: To be honest, I didn’t have TV, I didn’t have Internet and I hadn’t watched them play this year, so I had no idea what was going on. I knew there was some rumbling. I’m on my back, Iistening to Motown on my iPad all day. And it just happened. It happened so quickly, I didn’t even think about it. I didn’t have any thoughts. I was heavy medicated, too.
Q: On his reaction getting the job:
D'Antoni: Are you kidding me? This just happened? It was just an unbelievable feeling of real shock. This is really good. This is fun. The stakes are high, but to go back and to be able to coach this team, of this type of caliber and this city, in this weather? You kidding me? What’s there not to like?
Q: On what he thinks of the criticism that he coached good teams in Phoenix and wasn't able to advance to the NBA Finals:
D'Antoni: You have to criticize San Antonio. They were better than us. Every time they beat us, they won a championship. (Gregg) Popovich does a great job and they were good. To be honest, people try to explain how you lose like small ball can’t win. San Antonio beat us with small ball. Robert Horry is out there standing by the 3-point line. Tim Duncan is a force inside, Tony Parker and (Manu) Ginobili are just good. They were better than we were. It’s funny; they said it didn’t work in the playoffs, but we couldn’t beat them in the regular season. We were 1-3 against them in the regular season. It’s not all of a sudden where we sweep them, beat them by 20, here come the playoffs and we can’t beat them. Having said that, it’s probably the truth and it’s what we know. We had to put up with some injuries. Joe Johnson breaks his face and that complicated a lot of things. I couldn’t put Joe on Tony Parker; I had to put Steve over there and that wore him out. We had the suspensions – the fifth game and we were going back home. Seventy-five percent of the time you win the fifth game and you win the series. We had Amar’e (Stoudemire) and Boris Diaw out. That’s what makes me sleep at night. The reality is they beat us.
Q: On his time in New York:
D'Antoni: It was great, it was great. If they came to me and we did it again and the situation I was in, I would do it again. We had a great shot at getting a lot of good free agents. Donnie Walsh did a good job of laying out the plan. Here’s the plan. Can you do this? Will you do this? Can you take care of us for two years and get clobbered knowing here’s where we’re going? Why wouldn’t I do that? I’m a coach and you’re a team player. That’s what the vision was and we did it. Loved my guys that I had. The first three years, I coached like seventy guys. Every one of them gave something every day. Madison Square Garden is a special place. You win one or two in a row and they think you’re going to win a championship. You can feel it. I’m thinking: ‘Oh gosh’ because we’re about to get clobbered. But I would not change it. At the end it didn’t work out the way it should have, but I do feel the franchise now is on a great path. They’re good. Tyson Chandler is huge for that team. We just struggled because when we got Tyson, we had to give up our point guards. Then we had ‘Linsanity,’ and ‘Linsanity’ was another problem, but it was also a great thing. I wouldn’t change it. I’d change (to be) more successful, but I’d go back and do it again.
Q: On Nash being able to do everything he used to do without getting worn down:
D’Antoni: I don’t think we know. I think he can and I think he’s going to be great. I can’t wait to get him back there. I think he has another two or three years there. He didn’t have a whole lot of speed when he was in Phoenix and he hasn’t lost anything. But he’s smart, he’s smart and he can play. Nobody works harder than him. We just got to get his legs well and I think the people of Los Angeles will come to appreciate an unbelievable player.
Q: On if he spoke to Nash after he left Phoenix:
D’Antoni: You speak. He’s a friend. That was the best player I ever coached. Phoenix had Alvin Gentry and they went on. From a personal level and all that stuff, sure. That’s what makes coaching great. You build relationships and stuff, even though we lost. That was my time in Italy I thought was the best. Whether you won a championship or lost it, sometimes when you lose it, you become closer as people, and understanding weaknesses and understanding how people react to you. That’s what it’s all about. It’s about relationships. There’s certain good ones and certain bad ones – and you can’t dwell on that – but there’s a lot of good ones.
Q: On how he can maximize the bench:
D’Antoni: I was thinking just put all our starters on the bench and then maybe everybody will talk about the starters aren’t as good. Problem that Mitch (Kupchak) has is the starters are damn good that everybody is going to criticize anybody that comes in. That’s always a problem. The bench is going to be good. I like the Morris kid; I think Darius has a good upside; Steve Blake, obviously; Jordan Hill has been playing well for you guys – just a lot of good things. We’ll look where the system goes. We’ll look who adapts. Jodie Meeks might make the next 10 (3-pointers) down and all of a sudden, he’s the next Eddie House of the situation. As soon as we get everybody together, get our players, get Steve (Nash) and get this thing rolling, then we can see who can help us – and the bench will help us. Play the guys that can play, and we’ll do that.
Q: On the Lakers last possession against San Antonio:
D’Antoni: It didn’t work out, did it? They double-teamed Kobe (Bryant) and Pau (Gasol) had a pretty good look at a three, and it hit the back of the rim. It happens. We got to get to the point where it doesn’t come down to the last possession. I know that’s a little bit of a pipe dream. If it does, we’ll execute it. When everybody is comfortable – and it’s not fair that everything’s changed and everybody thinks they’re going to execute like a championship team today – that’ll work out.
Q: On showing highlights of players before games:
D’Antoni: As a matter of fact, it was the ‘(Chris) Duhon hour.’ We showed the playbook, these were the plays and it was always Duhon doing it. He looked good out there and he will look good. We like to accentuate the positives. I don’t dwell on negatives. We like to show film before we go on the floor of Dwight (Howard) dunking or Steve (Nash) dealing. Everything’s positive; everything’s fun. Let’s go do Showtime; let’s go do it. Let’s get the win in the meantime. But there will be a lot of that.
Q: On his message to the team:
D’Antoni: They’re good guys. They understand. They know what’s at stake. The only thing I ask them is that for the next two weeks, they’re going to have to will themselves to win. It’s not going to be smooth. Do it on the defensive end, take nothing for granted and set yourself up to win games early. We’ll win games late, but get themselves in that type of frame of mind. Just play and we’ll do that for awhile.
Q: On what separates good coaches:
D’Antoni: Players. It really does. There are some great coaches. There are some great high school coaches. Watch a high school team, watch a college team and there are great coaches everywhere. I just happen to be on a stage and you have to have great players. To me, it’s hard for a coach to win things, but he can sure screw it up. I’ve kind of gone with that philosophy where I’m giving players enough rope to where they feel good. You do things. I’m exaggerating. Everything’s 100 percent like I’m saying. You prepare and you make adjustments during the game, but you don’t try to over coach. You try to make it simple so that player’s talents come out.
Q: On managing minutes for Nash, Kobe and Gasol:
D’Antoni: I don’t know yet, but we’ll see. I always start with great intentions and I look at the end of the game and I’m going, ‘Oh man, Kobe played 45. That’s not good.’ Then go to the next game, ‘Oh man, Kobe played 40. That’s not good.’ I think every coach worries about that. We have one of the best, if not the best medical staff. They know their bodies and they’re great veterans. We will watch that, and that’s a big key – to watch it. And hope that we can do that the best way we can.
Q: On tweaking his current offensive system:
D’Antoni: It’s not easy to put into sound bites. We’ll have a rhythm. Offense is a rhythm, they’ll just go and they’ll go at their pace. You just go and you get into a flow. The point guard has his pace. Steve Nash is not Speedy Gonzalez. He just comes up and goes, everybody knows their positions and there’s a rhythm.
Q: On his brother's role helping coach:
D’Antoni: A good role and he’s a good coach. Obviously he has a little leg up because he knows exactly what we were looking for and what we were doing. He’s been with me now seven or eight years, and I can’t get out there and be more active today. A month from today, I’ll be more active and take a bigger role. Individual work or part-method work, a lot of our assistants will do that. Hopefully my voice will be heard when it needs to be heard.