NEW YORK — How bad is it?
I see Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni having lunch Thursday with Jack McCallum, who wrote about his time with D’Antoni in Phoenix in a book: ":07 Seconds or Less.”
And I’m asking D’Antoni if he’s already working on a sequel: “24 Games or Less: My Time With the Lakers.”
This is before the Knicks are running the Lakers out of Madison Square Garden and before Carmelo Anthony gets hurt so the Lakers can rally and make Magic Johnson sweat a little.
How bad is Magic?
With 2:28 remaining in the first half, and that’s the first half, he tweets: “I have to apologize to my friend @Spike Lee for believing my @Lakers would beat the Knicks.”
Is this the earliest surrender in Lakers history?
The Rev. Jesse Jackson is in the Lakers’ locker room after the Knicks win, 116-107, but I don’t know enough about his religious practices to know if he’s here to perform last rites.
The Lakers are dead, and I’m telling D’Antoni he’s getting killed in Los Angeles.
“I don’t care,” says D’Antoni, and so fans can curse, scream and carry on like there is no tomorrow.
“I don’t care. If you hadn’t told me I’m getting killed, I wouldn’t have known.”
You might want to curse, scream and carry on a little louder. Or start chanting, “Phil, Phil, Phil.”
“I don’t read and I don’t listen,” D’Antoni says. “I don’t watch anything but tape. I think about the team and I live my life. Then I’ll have a nice dinner and a glass of wine.
“I’m pretty secure in what I do. I don’t need public approval. I try as hard as I can and if it works out, great. If not, I tried.”
What is this, rec basketball, where everyone gets a ribbon for doing their best?
“Listen, half of the people want to see me die whether I die or not, and that’s the half that are killing me,” he says. “I don’t blame them. Right now they’re right. But my objective in life is to prove them wrong.”
How’s that going so far?
He says he’s healthy enough to do his job, although it doesn’t always appear to be so. He says he’s drained after games but fine in preparing for and coaching them.
Two nights ago in Cleveland he breaks down, his team collapsing and D’Antoni losing his focus and cool.
“I can live with losing,” he says, while apologizing for the other night. “Most of the time you lose in life anyway, so I can handle it. I don’t like it, but it’s not going to destroy me. Me flipping out on you guys had nothing to do with me feeling the pressure. I’m tired; I couldn’t beat my opponent, so I beat up on you guys.
“If you knew me as a player, after a loss I want to fight.”
So does that mean we will have some more of these fiery exchanges when he’s pressed to offer more than “I don’t know”?
“If you travel with the team,” he says to me. “I think that’s the common denominator, don’t know for sure, but we’re one for one so far.”
Instead of going two for two, D’Antoni shows restraint. When asked why the Lakers continue to fall behind so early, he doesn’t go “I don’t know” on the room, but accomplishes the same thing with some forgettable answer.
The other night he gets testy when he’s asked if he’s embarrassed, well on his way to hearing the same question Thursday night with the Lakers losing after the first quarter, 41-27.
“I took offense to that,” says D’Antoni about being asked the question in Cleveland. “I would be embarrassed if I was running around on my wife and I got caught or if I was not doing the job as hard as I can do it.
“I only get embarrassed if I’m lazy, but if I’m working as hard as I can go I’m not embarrassed. I’m disappointed and I’m thinking I’ll get it next time. I should have said that; that was my mistake.”
The Lakers’ mistake might be the hiring of D’Antoni, who returned to New York to be booed after failing miserably as the Knicks’ coach.
Why isn’t he concerned the same thing might be happening now in L.A.?
“It’s almost like walking a high wire, but I got a safety net,” says D’Antoni. “What’s the worst that’s going to happen to me — go play golf the rest of my life?”
He’s beginning to sound like Mike Brown. And more so when you compare the way both answer questions — humor first, as if deflecting attention away from the query.
Maybe it’s a defense mechanism, both men burned. Brown got waylaid in Cleveland, D’Antoni in New York; both want fans to believe they don’t care if folks are unhappy.
“It’s the only way you can survive in this business,” D’Antoni says. “I don’t care what anyone writes. And why am I going to give honest answers? I can’t protect my team if I’m going to give honest answers.”
Let me help: The Lakers currently stink; why protect them from the truth? They know they are prone to start slowly, talking about it almost every day. And so here they are losing by 14 before the second quarter begins.
“If I can solve some problems,” he says, while obviously counting on the return of Steve Nash.
But what about his well-known defensive deficiencies?
“Steve’s smart,” he says. “Magic wasn’t a great defensive player, but he was smart and one of the best I ever saw. Dwight Howard can make up the difference. Dwight makes us a top-10 defensive team.”
D’Antoni is big on comic relief, as you know.
“You know, I’ve lost in my life and I can lose again,” he says. “I’m not a genius.”
Let me be the first, I tell him, to agree.
“That’s good,” he says. “You’ll take those words back.”