Mike D’Antoni sat at a press conference table sporting a new haircut and a wide smile, a symbolic image suggesting his readiness to make his head coaching debut when the Lakers (5-5) host the Brooklyn Nets (6-2) tonight at Staples Center.
“Ready to go,” said D’Antoni, who’s going through physical therapy after recent knee replacement surgery.
D’Antoni will sit on the sideline on an elevated seat that looks familiar to the one Phil Jackson once sat on, but it’s a different one. D’Antoni doesn’t plan on having any crutches nearby for support, joking “I was looking today for a parrot and an eye patch.” And even if he joked that he refused to see trainer Gary Vitti for clearance, D’Antoni remains confident he can make it through the game.
That’s not to say he won’t have limitations.
“I’m never pain-free,” D’Antoni said. “I’m 61 years old. I haven’t been pain free since I was 30.”
But nothing that will prevent him from coaching from the sideline.
“It’ll be fun,” he said. “I got the greatest job in the world with the greatest players in the world. I’m not sitting here moping or anything. I’m looking forward to it.”
Instead, D’Antoni sounded self-deprecating on everything surrounding his team.
What if the Lakers lose and fans suddenly clamor for the return of Bernie Bickerstaff?
“He’s right beside me or right behind me,” D’Antoni said with a smile. “He’ll jump right in there.”
Will the Lakers manage to keep up the pace that has enabled them to average 116 points per game using elements of his system?
“That’s a danger. I’m not kidding,” D’Antoni said. “We got up to 119 points. I’ll coach them and coach them down.”
What precautions does D’Antoni need to take during the Lakers’ three-game trip at Sacramento (Wednesday), Memphis (Friday) and Dallas (Saturday)?
“I’ll wear some stockings, put a game ready on, take some blood thinners and try to eat healthy and go for it.” D’Antoni said. “I’m good. This is great.”
At least there’s one less absence the Lakers have to monitor. D’Antoni remained unsure whether Steve Nash will miss any more games after the Lakers’ three-game trip because of his fractured left leg. D’Antoni also penciled out Steve Blake for the those games because he wants him to practice once he fully heals from a lower abdominal strain. And Darius Morris will start at point guard for the fourth consecutive game.
Beyond measuring his health, D’Antoni will also have to measure the Lakers’ progress.
“We have 72 mores games we can be patient,” he said. “The only thing we can’t do right now is win 77. We have plenty of time. There will be no panic. I don’t know how good we can become. But our goal is to be the best team in the league.”
And that thought alone kept D’Antoni energetic enough, even if he’s fighting the pain from his recent surgery.
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” he said. “It’s a special place. Ill do my best to take care of it as best as I can. Anyone who plays here or coaches here is privileged.”
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