New Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni smiles during a media conference after practice at the Lakers' training facility in El Segundo, California

First press conference shows Mike D’Antoni near opposite of Mike Brown

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It took about five minutes of one press conference for one thing to be very clear:

Mike D’Antoni is about the polar opposite of Mike Brown.

The Lakers wanted a clean break and a new direction, and they got that for sure. Brown was controlling — he was a grind-it-out guy focused on defense and a complex offense where he called plays almost every time down the court. He micromanaged and overthought things.

D’Antoni, not so much.

“I don’t like to call a lot of plays, our offense should flow,” D’Antoni said at his introductory press conference with the Lakers, before falling back on one of his mantras. “The ball should find energy and the ball should find our best guys.”

D’Antoni talked about mindset and getting players not to fit a system but to play to their strengths.

Look what he said about Pau Gasol, saying the Spanish big man will play some four, some five and they will “try to open up a little bit more for him.”

“I know players are criticized a lot for not being tough enough, I just don’t buy into it,” D’Antoni added about Gasol. “He’s a tough guy in the sense he is a skilled guy. There is a difference. Sometimes you get outside of what you do. What he does is great and I’m going to do is get him to do what he does.”

It was the same idea talking about Jodie Meeks: “I told him the only time he needs to shoot is when he touches the ball.”

Meeks is a shooter, D’Antoni doesn’t want him to be a ball handler making decisions. It was the same with Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash — he talked about flow and space and getting them to do what they do well in just a free flowing way.

He also said multiple times this is the best defensive personnel he has ever had and he expects this team to be a “bear” on defense.

We’ll see. He talked a good game, now is just the challenge of living up to it.

Other press conference highlights:

• D’Antoni did not shy away from title talk: “We’re built to win this year, this is not a project. We have a window and we’re going to try and get through it.”

• He said his first game as coach likely would be Sunday, not Friday against the Suns.

• He said he didn’t hear Magic Johnson’s comments that ESPN has beat into the ground all Thursday. But he basically shrugged off all the criticism saying he understands but if he wins it would all go away. He’s right.

• D’Antoni talked a lot about process. “We have to have goals, we have to understand the game Friday is a step on the road to the championship. We can’t will ourselves into June, but we have to play the regular season. That is important, we have to build a foundation.”

• “I think that’s the biggest challenge, that we didn’t have a (training) camp. The work we’re doing now, today in practice, we would do that in September… The good part is they are great players and they pick it up pretty quick.”

• As for his time in New York… He said he backed the Carmelo Anthony trade, and while he supported getting Tyson Chandler those two deals left them without a point guard to run his point-guard driven offense. They struggled. And when they struggled everything turned on them and everyone got killed in the media. He was philosophical about it.

• D’Antoni on his relationship with Kobe dating back to when Kobe’s dad played with D’Antoni in Italy when Kobe was 12. “He can come over and cuss me out in Italian and you guys might not even know it.”

• Also about Kobe: “That’s the most competitive guy I’ve ever been around… his intensity, that is something that as a coach, I love it. And he’s playing great basketball right now, as great as he has ever played.”

• He says this will not be a seven seconds or less team, but he wants the tempo faster. “If you’ve got the best team, why wouldn’t you play the most possessions that you could play? If you’re the best, defensively and offensively. Any time possessions are cut down, then a bad call or a missed shot and you got a chance to lose. But to me, if we get the possessions up here (holds arms far apart), to me statistically we’ve got a lot better chance to win.”

Rajon Rondo strangely runs behind Rick Carlisle during play (video)

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This would be ignored – still odd, but ignored – if it weren’t for their history.

But Rajon Rondo running behind Rick Carlisle during the Mavericks’ win over the Bulls raised a couple eyebrows in curiosity and drew a few chuckles. What was Rondo doing?

At least Carlisle explained why he didn’t call timeout before Wesley Matthewsgame-winning 3-pointer. The Dallas coach had Rondo in mind.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Mike D’Antoni: “James Harden was the perfect superstar for how I would like to coach”

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 07: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets looks on against the Washington Wizards during the first half at Verizon Center on November 7, 2016 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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It’s not exactly Seven Seconds or Less Part 2 in Houston, but it may be closer to Mike D’Antoni’s ultimate vision.

The Rockets are 32-12 with the third-best offense in the NBA (Toronto and Golden State), and it’s an analytics wet dream of threes and shots at the rim. It’s all come together because James Harden bought in. Steve Nash ran the offense brilliantly but differently — Harden is as good or better with his style (which gets him to the line more often).

The brilliant Howard Beck at Bleacher Report got everyone to talk about the Rockets rapid rise and how it all came together. It’s must read. Plus there are some brilliant quotes, starting with Harden about D’Antoni pitching the move to point guard:

“I thought he was crazy,” says Harden, who earned his stardom at shooting guard….

Or as D’Antoni put it, “James Harden was the perfect superstar for how I would like to coach.”

“People always ask, ‘You traded for him; did you know he was this good?'” (Rockets GM Daryl) Morey says. “I’m like, ‘F–k no!’ I mean, we thought he was extremely good and better than other teams probably did.”

But not top-five good or, say, top-three, which Morey would make the case for today.

Harden is MVP-level good. What’s more, the Rockets are knocking on the door of contender good. The pedestrian defense isn’t there yet (18th in the NBA for the season, 15th for the month of January), questions about depth and if young key cogs like Clint Capela can grow into the roles the Rockets need them to, and there are the health concerns considering the histories of Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson.

But the Rockets are dangerous right now and could reach the Western Conference Finals this season if healthy and things break right (their style and athleticism would be a tough test for the Spurs).  And the story of how it all came together is fascinating.

Carmelo Anthony on talk with Jackson: “We didn’t break bread….It was a short conversation”

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 25:  Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks looks on during the game against the Boston Celtics at Madison Square Garden on December 25, 2016 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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It wasn’t long. It wasn’t outwardly contentious. But you can bet it was colder than the weather outside Madison Square Garden in January.

Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony sat down and talked about Anthony’s future with the Knicks Tuesday, with Anthony reiterating again he doesn’t want to be traded. And since he has a no-trade clause and two years on his deal after this one, he has the power.

Anthony seems done with the entire topic and is ready to move on. From Marc Berman of the New York Post.

“The conversation was not that long. We didn’t break bread,’’ Anthony said. “We didn’t have hours of conversation. It was a short conversation.”

This entire topic came up when Phil Rosen — a Phil Jackson confidant who swears he’s not a surrogate — penned an article saying Anthony was willing to accept a move to the Cavaliers or Clippers (or maybe the Lakers). The move felt like a classic Jackson mind game move where Anthony was forced to respond to it — and Anthony seems done with the drama.

“I’m done asking why,’’ Anthony said. “My focus is playing ball at this point. My focus is these guys. That’s all I care about at this point. Making sure these guys stay strong and positive and have their head on right and not be a distraction to them.

“I’m committed [to the Knicks]. I don’t have to prove that to anybody. I don’t have to keep saying that and keep talking about it. I know for a fact people know that and people see that.”

Anthony is ready to move on, is Jackson? Or do we see another mind game move coming?

Anthony isn’t going anywhere, not in the short term. Even if Anthony would entertain a trade to those mentioned, markets, you think the Cavaliers would like to give Kevin Love‘s minutes and some of LeBron James‘ touches to 33-year-old Anthony? You think Doc Rivers would swap 27-year-old Blake Griffin for ‘Melo? Anthony is expensive and while he can still score the other limitations in his game make it very hard to trade him.

Jackson is the master of convincing guys to do what he wants and think it’s their own idea, but I have a hard time seeing that happening with Anthony.

Kevin Durant reflects on “AAU basketball” of Durant/Westbrook/Harden Thunder

Derek Fisher, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, James Harden
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If MVP voting took place today, James Harden and Russell Westbrook would be in a photo finish for the win — they are the clear first and second choices in that race. Third could well be Kevin Durant, who is having a strong and efficient season in Golden State (it’s who Dan Feldman and I said we would pick third during the PBT Podcast, although certainly guys like LeBron James, Isaiah Thomas, Kawhi Leonard and others are in the mix).

Remember when Durant, Westbrook, and Harden were all on the same team? The NBA’s ultimate “what if?”

Anthony Slater of the San Jose Mercury News got Durant to reminisce about those days (the Warriors play the Thunder and Rockets this week).

“It’s easy to say we were supposed to be together for the rest of our careers, but it didn’t play out like that,” Durant said. “I think all three of us will have memorable careers. And it’ll be a journey we’ll always remember, something that’s different and unique, playing with two different guys who are doing incredible things in the league right now. But when you look back, think about the fun times instead of what could’ve been.”

Could they have ruled the NBA for a decade?

“No. We never looked at it that way, like we could be best of all-time,” Durant said. “It was really AAU basketball, man. We were just having fun. We weren’t listening to anyone on the outside, media, none of that. It was just pure fun. When we did hear something about the group, it was like, what is this? That was so foreign to us because we never paid attention to it.”

It was Harden that was traded — he wanted and deserved the max, the Thunder has spent on Durant, Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka. They weren’t willing to pay the costs — the luxury tax bill would have come calling — to keep all three. The other side of that debate: Could Harden have continued happily in his sixth man role? This guy dominates the ball now (he leads the league in time of possession this season), would he have stayed coming off the bench to win?

“I think he’d have stayed in that role. I think so,” Durant said. “He’d have still been a really great player. You look at it, a lot of people wouldn’t have looked at him as a Sixth Man. He’d have been better. I think he’d have been better. Obviously I’m sure he loves what he’s doing now, but if we would’ve won a championship, I think the perception of him would’ve just been as a great player. ‘He’s the heart, he’s what makes us go.’ That’s what his label would’ve been, instead of just Sixth Man. He would’ve probably been the best Sixth Man that ever was.”

Maybe, and maybe that would have been enough. It’s all moot now.

But what if?