By JOSH NEWMAN
Special to ZAGSBLOG
GREENBURGH, N.Y. – As the news broke in the wee hours of Monday morning that it would be ex-Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni, not Phil Jackson, getting hired as the new head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, attention back east turned to what the reaction would be from not only some of his former players, but from the man who followed in his footsteps, Knicks head coach Mike Woodson.
“I’m very excited for him, I really am,” Woodson said after practice at the MSG Training Center on Monday afternoon. “I think he’s a guy that’s meant to be a coach, he’s done great things over the years as a coach and I think he’ll do extremely well.”
With the Knicks, D’Antoni put together forgettable seasons in 2008-09 (32-50) and 2009-10 (29-53) as the franchise lined itself up to make a run at then-free agent LeBron James in the Summer of 2010. James never came, but Amar’e Stoudemire did in addition to a midseason trade for Carmelo Anthony.
A 42-40 season produced zero playoff wins in 2010-11 and after an 18-24 start to the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, D’Antoni resigned, paving the way for Woodson to take over and he has flourished.
Woodson finished last season 18-6 and while the Knicks fell to the Miami Heat, 4-1, in the first round of the playoffs, it was the team’s first playoff victory since Game 3 in the first round way back in 2001.
D’Antoni officially resigned, but the widely-viewed assumption is that Anthony drove D’Antoni out of New York. Whether or not that is true, Anthony was adamant that he and D’Antoni had nothing but a positive relationship.
Anthony and D’Antoni were both part of the Team USA squad that won gold at the London Olympics in August.
“I’m happy for him, I’m happy for him, man,” Anthony said. “I was with him this summer, he didn’t really know what was gonna happen as far as getting a job this year or next year. It’ll be fun, I know Kobe is excited about that. We’ll see. I think everybody’s waiting to see.”
To the surprise of many, D’Antoni was the choice over Jackson, who owns 11 championship rings as a coach, five of which came with the Lakers during two separate tenures. The concensus among Lakers management was that D’Antoni was a better fit for this title-ready group right now as opposed to Jackson, with whom there will also concerns as to how much traveling he could do.
D’Antoni’s deal is for three years and $12 million with a club option for a fourth year as he will be reunited with his one-time point guard, Steve Nash. Nash, arguably the best pick-and-roll point guard of this generation, had his best years under D’Antoni with the Phoenix Suns from 2004-08. The pair won at least 54 games in each of their four seasons together and advanced to the Western Conference Finals in 2005 and 2006.
In addition to Nash and Kobe Bryant, D’Antoni will also have two of the best post players in the game at his disposal in Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.
“A different way of playing offensive pick-and-roll, he’s great at it,” Woodson said when asked what he learned from D’Antoni in their time together with the Knicks. “Some of the things that Mike did, I’m still doing. I’ve added a few things to what he’s done, but I like a lot of the things Mike did from an offensive standpoint. I think Mike is a fantastic coach and again, I wish him nothing but the best.”
Knicks fans won’t have to wait much longer for D’Antoni’s return to Madison Square Garden as the Lakers make their only trip to Manhattan on Dec. 13 in a game that will be nationally-televised on TNT. That game is part of a big 5-day stretch for the Knicks as Jeremy Lin makes his return to MSG with the Houston Rockets on Dec. 17.
The Knicks will make their return trip to Los Angeles on Christmas Day. That game is scheduled for a 3 p.m. nationally-televised start on ABC.
“I don’t even know who we play this week,” Anthony joked when asked if he was excited for the Dec. 13 game. “That’s too far ahead for me.”
The 4-0 Knicks, who are the NBA’s last undefeated team, begin a stretch of three road games in four nights beginning Tuesday at the Orlando Magic. They will then play a tough back-to-back at the San Antonio Spurs Thursday and at the Memphis Grizzlies Friday.