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.”