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D'Antoni: Lakers built to win this season

The SportsXchange

LOS ANGELES -- Mike D'Antoni eased into his seat at the table for his introductory press conference Thursday afternoon, fresh off knee surgery.

He won't be able to ease into his new job.

The Los Angeles Lakers introduced their 24th head coach Thursday at their practice facility in El Segundo, three days after signing D'Antoni to a three-year contract reportedly worth $12 million. The Lakers fired former head coach Mike Brown on Nov. 9 after a 1-4 start followed an 0-8 preseason.

With the Lakers now at 3-5 after a 2-1 run under interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff, who is expected to coach the team Friday against Phoenix as D'Antoni continues to recuperate, D'Antoni understands the immediate pressure he's facing.

Especially as he was picked over beloved former head coach Phil Jackson, who was thought to be the front-runner for the position.

"We're built to win this year," D'Antoni said. "This is not a project. We have a window, and we're going to try to get through it."

D'Antoni does not just enter a difficult situation because of the circumstances of his hire, but also because the Lakers are reeling in the win column and writhing on the trainer's table. D'Antoni's old Suns captain, point guard Steve Nash, remains out with a fractured left fibula and his backup, Steve Blake, is sidelined with an abdominal strain.

Oh, and the Lakers have just three wins.

D'Antoni should be used to the pressure of a looming microscope having coached, and struggled, in New York from 2008-2012. D'Antoni finished his Knicks career with a record of 121-167 after coaching Phoenix from 2003-2008 and leading the Suns to two Western Conference finals appearances.

The primary task for D'Antoni with his new squad will be incorporating two talented big men, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, into his up-tempo offense.

Easing the pressure has been the support of Lakers leader Kobe Bryant, who voiced surprise that Jackson was not hired but made it known he was very happy with D'Antoni.

"We have a great relationship," Bryant told reporters earlier in the week. "The offense that he installed for our USA team was the offense that we ran to the tune of two gold medals. We all know the type of talent that we had on that team, so it was important for us to have an offense that was flexible, that was open, that kept everybody involved. It worked pretty well for us."

Not everyone connected to the Lakers organization was so vehement in their excitement.

"I don't feel Mike D'Antoni is the right coach," Lakers hall of fame point guard Magic Johnson said on ESPN's NBA Countdown on Wednesday night. "Especially when you have Phil Jackson sitting right there."

While one of the Lakers skewered the team for passing on another Lakers legend, the Lakers are set to honor yet another legend on Friday. D'Antoni's would-be debut will be kicked off by the unveiling of a statue of hall of fame center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
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