Mike D'Antoni's likable enough; time will tell if he's good enough

Like everyone else, the self-deprecating D'Antoni is shocked that the Lakers hired him and not Phil Jackson. He looks at Showtime 'as the model we would like to pursue.'

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So here I am, the Welcome Wagon, the first media guy in Los Angeles talking to Mike D'Antoni and he's not quitting.

I thought I would be spending the day genuflecting in front of the Zen Master again, but by the time I'm finished with D'Antoni I'm thinking, "Phil who?"

It may be April, May or, for his sake, June before we find out if D'Antoni is the right choice to coach the Lakers.

But I can tell you in the meantime folks here are going to fall hard for his self-deprecating humor.

He talks funny, some kind of West Virginia thing, but that's worked here before. And he's willing to poke fun at himself.

"I've got some really close friends who are Laker fans," D'Antoni says. "And they were disappointed I got the job."

He talks about family, his father, who will be 99 on New Year's Eve, and his fondness for people. He's human, so we can already see the differences between him and Jackson.

He's scheduled to arrive Wednesday in Los Angeles, meet the team on Thursday, and he's pointing to the weekend — most likely Sunday — to make his Lakers coaching debut.

"It depends how I feel," he says. "I think miraculously I'll start feeling better when Steve [Nash] is feeling better. I've already tried coaching without him and that didn't work out too well, so I'm thinking I'll be smart this time."

D'Antoni is two weeks removed from having his right knee replaced. He's down to one crutch or a cane, having left the hospital shortly after Sandy passed through and took away the electricity. It forced him to take a room in a retirement home.

"Here I am retired, in my 60s, wondering what I'm going to do with the rest of my life. My wife is thinking I like board games and Jello and I'm worried when the electricity comes back whether she's going to bring me home or not."

Then he gets a phone call from the Lakers. Leave it to Jim Buss, as the criticism will go later if this doesn't work, to find the replacement for Mike Brown in a retirement home.

"I'm not drawing up plays or texting anyone because I figure, like everyone else, it's Phil's job," D'Antoni says.

He spends all day Sunday talking to the Lakers while everyone else thinks Jackson's agent is doing a deal with the team.

So if D'Antoni wasn't who he is and he was asked who he would he hire — Jackson or D'Antoni — never mind, he finds that hilarious.

"Is that a trick question? I'd like to think I'm humble enough to say the other guy because of what he's done, but you know we're all dogs at heart."

He accepts the job with the Lakers' proviso that he will quickly do a contract.

He takes a pay cut, going from $6 million a year as coach of the Knicks to $4 million with the Lakers.

"Keep in mind I'm unemployed," he says.

The Lakers are apparently in a hurry to quell the momentum to hire Jackson. I just want to know how a coach like D'Antoni goes from being 121-167 and not winning a playoff game with New York to coaching the Lakers?

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