EL SEGUNDO – Moments after huddling up, the Lakers parted ways yelling one word.
“Championship,” they yelled in near unison.
It turns out Mike D’Antoni has quickly latched on to the Lakers’ culture. But the Lakers will mark that process in steps.
For D’Antoni, he led his first practice as the Lakers’ coach walking in crutches after having knee replacement surgery in November. He also revealed he went through practices on pain medication. That’s why D’Antoni ruled himself out when the Lakers host the Phoenix Suns Friday at Staples Center, prolonging Bernie Bickerstaff’s tenure as interim head coach at least to another game. Barring further setbacks, D’Antoni said he “probably” will make his Lakers’ head coaching debut Sunday against the Houston Rockets.
D’Antoni outlined a clear vision on how he wants these current Lakers to pursue their 17th NBA championship.
“We hope to be able to play ‘Showtime’ type basketball,” said D’Antoni here at his introductory press conference
No, these current Lakers won’t exactly run D’Antoni’s dubbed “seven seconds or less offense.” Not when the team’s starting lineup averages 32.6 years in age. But D’Antoni envisions an offense where no players will feel inhibited, they’ll find easier baskets and they’ll have fun doing so. That’s why he spent his first practice going over pick-and-roll sequences and empasizing one message.
“Score,” Lakers center Dwight Howard said. “He said we should be scoring 110 points per game. We have to find ways to score. The biggest thing for us is getting stops on the defensive end. That’s going to be key especially in the playoffs.”
But first things first.
The Lakers may have more adjustments beyond D’Antoni leading practice with crutches. D’Antoni,’s brother, Dan, joined the team’s coaching staff and ran drills. But Mike kept open the possibility he’d retain at least some of the Lakers’ assistants, including Bernie Bickerstaff, Darvin Ham, Chuck Person, Eddie Jordan and player development coach Phil Handy.
There’s also personnel issues.
Respective injuries kept Lakers guards Steve Nash (fractured left leg) and Steve Blake (lower abdominal strain) out of practice. Lakers center Dwight Howard revealed he feels 75-80% of his full capabilities after having back surgery seven months ago. Lakers forward Jordan Hill practiced , though he’ll have to monitor nursing a sprained right wrist earlier this week. D’Antoni also conceded he doesn’t know yet the ideal minutes he will play Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Nash.
That’s why D’Antoni wants to keep his offense simple.
“I don’t want to put too much on them,” he said. “We have to win games by our energy level and playing until we get this sorted out.”
But if his arrival at the Lakers’ facility at 6:30 a.m meant anything, D’Antoni means business.
“We’re built to win this year,” he said. “This is not a project. We have a window and we’ll try to get through it.”