Before he calls his first play for the Los Angeles Lakers, commencing the next stage of his career, Mike D'Antoni will hobble gently toward his recent past, in a warm, sentimental embrace.
Mike D'Antoni, left, and Jeremy Lin will meet for the first time on the court since their days with the Knicks last season.
Fate and the N.B.A. schedule-makers have arranged a timely reunion Sunday night at Staples Center, where D'Antoni will make his Lakers coaching debut against a Houston Rockets team led by Jeremy Lin. The evening will surely begin with a smile and a hug.
Nine months ago, Lin saved the Knicks' season, and nearly saved D'Antoni's Knicks career. The anonymous point guard and the embattled coach made beautiful basketball together -- a magnificent marriage of creative playmaking and a free-flowing offense.
The victories and the puns piled up, and for a moment, it seemed all involved would have their fairy-tale ending.
But Linsanity eventually waned, and D'Antoni -- saddled with a grumpy Carmelo Anthony and no clear path to success -- walked away. Months later, Lin was shown the door, too, slamming shut the most riveting chapter in recent Knicks history.
The reunion will be purely celebratory, with D'Antoni coaching the Lakers, the N.B.A.'s glamour team, and Lin comfortably installed as a face of the Rockets' future. Both men are unquestionably better off, having escaped the backbiting and the back-room politics that hastened their departures.
They are also unquestionably better off having shared a short time under the Madison Square Garden klieg lights.
"He changed my career," Lin told Houston reporters last week, referring to D'Antoni. "He changed my life."
It was D'Antoni who gave Lin his first meaningful N.B.A. opportunity, after he had been passed over in the draft and cut by two teams. And it was D'Antoni who provided Lin with a wide-open offensive system and the freedom to run it -- to probe and penetrate and pass and shoot and thrive.
"He's a coach that empowers his players," Lin said in that same interview, echoing the sentiments of many others who played for D'Antoni in Phoenix and New York.
Yet if D'Antoni provided the template for Linsanity to bloom, Lin provided D'Antoni with something just as valuable: vivid, spectacular vindication. In three-plus seasons with the Knicks, D'Antoni rarely had the point guard or the personnel to make his offense hum the way that Steve Nash had in Phoenix (and presumably will again in Los Angeles). When D'Antoni finally got the players who fit, the Knicks traded them away to get Anthony.
In that brief window in February, when Lin fueled a seven-game winning streak and a 10-3 run, with victories against Utah, Dallas and the Lakers, D'Antoni again had a team that made sense, that played with a selflessness and joy.
"The biggest thing it meant to me is that it leaves me with an unbelievable memory of two weeks that were incredible," D'Antoni said Saturday. "I don't care what sport, what walk of life -- to be able to experience that, feel the bond with those guys that were doing it."
As an engaged spectator, D'Antoni enjoyed the moment along with the rest of the world. As a coach, one whose New York tenure was more rocky than not, it emboldened him.
"You know what it does, it gives me more confidence as a coach," he said. "Because you can waver. You can take some hits. You start doubting things. But Jeremy put everything back in order, and it makes me go forward."
Source: The New York Times | HOWARD BECK