Though D’Antoni had taken the Suns to two Western Conference Championship series, his teams had never appeared in an NBA Finals. And although he led the Knicks to the playoffs in the 2010-11 season, they were swept in the first round by the Celtics, and D’Antoni resigned midway through the following campaign.
The 61-year-old Lakers head coach now says he regrets the decision to leave Phoenix, after being asked to return to the Suns.
On Thursday, ESPN Los Angeles published a lengthy piece on the Lakers and D’Antoni’s arrival, hitting on many topics but interviewing D’Antoni and most of the key players. In it, D’Antoni flatly says he wishes he had stayed in Phoenix rather than leaving for New York.
I shouldn’t have gone to New York,” says D’Antoni in the piece. “I should have stuck in there and battled. You don’t get to coach somebody like [Steve Nash] too many times. It’s pretty sacred and you need to take care of it. I didn’t.
“I think we got frustrated and I got frustrated. That’s why I left. We were there, it seemed like we deserved it, and then it seemed like something happened all the time. Maybe we weren’t good enough either. We have to understand that. I probably irrationally made a decision right when the season was over. You should take a month to figure it out. I shouldn’t have left. That was my fault.”
At the time D’Antoni left Phoenix, he was allowed to talk to other teams by general manager Steve Kerr, but was asked to stay. Kerr weighed in on D’Antoni’s admission, himself.
“I definitely wanted Mike to stay as coach but there were a lot of things I should have handled differently that led up to his decision to leave,” Kerr told the Arizona Republic.
It’s a pretty stunningly candid admission from the man tasked with bringing together a talented but veteran and underachieving Lakers squad together. Los Angeles won D’Antoni’s first game, but have since lost three of four, continuing to struggle.