The vacant Los Angeles Lakers head coaching position was filled late Sunday night, as the team came to an agreement with Mike D’Antoni.
The former Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks coach was installed into the position – reportedly on a three-year contract – after rapid negotiations saw a unanimous decision from Lakers’ owner Jerry Buss, Executive VP Jim Buss, and GM Mitch Kupchack.
The decision and announcement came as a surprise to most.
Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson had been expected to have not only first refusal on the position, but was predicted to take on what would have been a third stint with the team. Despite talks on Sunday, he was never offered the position. Some reports today even go so far as to suggest Jackson is as surprised as everybody else at D’Antoni’s appointment.
Bookmakers will certainly be surprised, firstly in that Jackson – the runaway favorite for the job – will not be coaching, and secondly in that the decision was made so quickly – it took little more than two days – that there was barely enough time to put together a list of candidates for bettors to pick from.
Quickly appears to be the name of the game for the Lakers front office this season. Mike Brown was fired post haste following a 1-4 start to the season, and without prior warning. Now D’Antoni has been hired with little fanfare or suggestion that he was the man for the job. Whilst he appeared as an initial candidate, few would have put money on him to beat out Jackson.
D’Antoni began his NBA career as a player, being drafted by the Kansas City-Omaha Kings (now playing in Sacramento). After stints with the Spirits of St. Louis in the ABA and San Antonio Spurs in the NBA, he moved on to Italy to play for Olympia Milano. It was in Italy that he cut his teeth coaching.
Back in the States, D’Antoni has collected 10 years of experience coaching in the Association. He made his first appearance in the role in 1998, replacing Bill Hanzig in Denver, after making the switch from director of player personnel. During the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, the Nuggets recorded a woeful 14-36 tally and D’Antoni was promptly relieved of his duties.
After spells as a scout in San Antonio and an assistant in Portland, D’Antoni returned to the bench in 2003, replacing Frank Johnson as head coach of the Phoenix Suns. During his five-year tenure in the desert, he amassed a 253-136 (.650) record.
He was named NBA coach of the year following the 2005 season, a year in which the Suns tied for a franchise best record of 62-20. During D’Antoni’s stint with the club, point guard Steve Nash – whom he will be reunited with in Los Angeles – was awarded back-to-back MVP honors.
In the summer of 2008, D’Antoni joined the New York Knicks after his contract with Phoenix expired. The Suns had hoped to keep his services, but the lure of the Big Apple, and the big pay check that came with it, were too much.
D’Antoni’s success with the Suns did not translate to Gotham. The Knicks failed to finish above .500 in each of his first two seasons in charge. A 42-40 record in 2010-11 was the best the team could muster during his tenure with the club.
After the Knicks began the 2011-12 season 18-24, D’Antoni was fired and replaced by assistant Mike Woodson. D’Antoni’s overall record with the Knicks was 121-167 (.420).
D’Antoni arrives in Los Angeles with an all-time NBA coaching record of 388-339 (.534).
The West Virginia native will be charged with guiding the Lakers to the playoffs and beyond. Anything less than a championship this season would be considered failure, which means the pressure will be on from day one.
D’Antoni adopts a team that has a 3-4 record – having won two straight under interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff – and is scheduled to play the Southwest Division-leading San Antonio Spurs (6-1) on Tuesday. To make things that little bit tougher, Steve Blake – currently spelling an injured Steve Nash – is suffering from a lower abominable sprain and could miss playing time. Chris Duhon and Darius Miles are expected to deputize for the injured pair.
Despite the veritable chaos engulfing the gold and purple side of Los Angeles, oddsmakers are holding firm to their belief that the Lakers will be successful this season. Bovada currently has the Lakers at 7/2 to win the NBA Championship, second to only Miami (9/5), the same position the team started the season.
The Lakers are favored to take the Western Conference at 9/5, ahead of Oklahoma City (5/2) and San Antonio (6/1). Having given both of those teams a head start, D’Antoni could have his work cut out for him over the next few months.