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Mike D’Antoni Expects Lakers To Be in ‘Serious Hunt’ For Title

Mike D’Antoni, Los Angeles Lakers coach, said he expects to help his new team to NBA championship contender.

“If we’re not at least in the hunt, a serious hunt, then I’ve failed as a head coach. I’m comfortable with that,” D’Antoni said Tuesday afternoon on the “Mason and Ireland” show on ESPNLA 710.

Adding to the pressure, the Lakers chose D’Antoni over former coach Phil Jackson, who has won 11 NBA titles, including five with the Lakers. Fans in Los Angeles had been chanting Jackson’s name in the two games the Lakers have played since firing Mike Brown last Friday.

It seemed to be Jackson’s job to turn down, which of course he never did. The Lakers simply chose D’Antoni as their next coach Sunday night before Jackson had a chance to give them an answer on Monday morning. Sources have told ESPN that he intended to accept the position if negotiations between his agent and the Lakers went well.

Earlier Tuesday, D’Antoni told the New York Daily News that he was “stunned” when the Lakers called and offered him the job, effectively passing on Jackson.

“I was surprised in the sense that it seemed like a natural fit,” D’Antoni told “Mason and Ireland.” “But you never know what happens, so I’m not here to judge one way or the other. I know he’s a great coach. Has been, will be, one of the best if not the best ever.”

The Lakers chose D’Antoni, in part, because they felt his up-tempo offense was a better fit for their current roster than Jackson’s Triangle offense, a more complicated system to learn.

“Much has been made of the perceived agreement to wait until Monday,” L.A. general manager Mitch Kupchak said. “The actual way it took place after the basketball discussion was kind of, ‘Where are we now?’ And Phil said he needs some more time and I asked him, ‘How much more time?’ And he said, ‘I will get back to you on Monday.’ ”

Jackson told Kupchak he would call him.

“At that point, I said, ‘Phil, I have a job to do and I’m going to have to continue my search and interview candidates,’ and he nodded that he understood,” Kupchak said.

He decided to call Jackson rather than wait until Monday morning.

“Our feeling was the worst thing we can do, since we already made our decision, was to go into Monday,” Kupchak said. “I can get a call at 8 in the morning or 9 in the morning or 12 from Phil indicating that, ‘I’ve thought about it and I would like to be the coach. Let’s start negotiations.’ To say at that point, ‘Well, we’ve decided to go in a different direction,’ our feeling was that would be even worse than what we did Sunday night.”

Kupchak left a message on Jackson’s cellphone that went unreturned, so he followed up with a call to the landline at Jackson’s home after digging up the number. Kupchak said Jackson was complimentary of D’Antoni on the phone.

“I woke him up,” Kupchak said. “He’s always a little cryptic on the phone, but I did wake him up. In those types of situations, there’s not a lot of small talk.”

Kupchak said Jackson was “very complimentary of Mike (D’Antoni) under the circumstances” after informing him D’An

The new coach said he would not employ his infamous “Seven Seconds or Less” offensive teams of the Phoenix Suns.

“This is a completely different team,” D’Antoni said. “This team will be more skilled, bigger, a little older, much more experienced and our object will be to find the best shot within the 24-second period. We’ll push the tempo a little bit. I think the model will be something like ‘Showtime.’ But that’s hard to reach. That was the best probably it’s ever been done, but that’s kind of how we will evolve things.

“But I think we can run whatever system in that we know the principles we want to run and we’ll tweak it to be efficient.”

D’Antoni said he would try to “wean (the Lakers) little by little” on his system because the Lakers’ roster is filled with players who “know how to play.”

“You have great experienced players (who) you wouldn’t try to burden them with too much,” he said. “Just let ’em play. I’m not coming in and trying to change everything. These guys know how to play.”

It helps that Steve Nash probably knows D’Antoni’s system as well the man himself.

“We’ll have Steve Nash running the offense and he’s really good at getting everybody involved the right way,” D’Antoni said. “What makes it really exciting is that everybody’s at the point in their career where all they want is the championship. Once you have that settled — and it should be like that everywhere but it isn’t — once you have that settled, it’s like, ‘OK, let’s sit down and figure this out.’ And we definitely have the talent to be able to do that.”

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