Los Angeles Lakers big man Dwight Howard said he was “excited” by the prospect of working with Mike D’Antoni, who was named as the club’s new head coach in a surprise announcement on Monday morning.
The move came after widespread reports that Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson — who guided the Lakers to five NBA titles before retiring last year, was front-runner for the job.
Howard said that he knew Lakers fans were keen to see Jackson return.
It would have been hard not to know after the chants of “We want Phil” that rang out at two Lakers games since head coach Mike Brown was fired on Friday.
“I really didn’t know what was going to happen, besides what I heard at the game: ‘We want Phil,’” Howard said on Monday, after D’Antoni’s hiring was announced.
“I’m excited for D’Antoni,” he added. “I think it will be good for us.”
However, the decision did not come without drama.
Jackson himself said in a statement quoted by the Los Angeles Times that after preliminary talks with Lakers executives on Saturday, he thought he had until Monday to render his decision.
Instead, he said, general manager Mitch Kupchak phoned him at about midnight on Sunday night to tell him D’Antoni had been hired.
“The decision is of course theirs to make,” Jackson said. “I am gratified by the groundswell of support from the Laker fans who encouraged my return and it is the principal reason why I considered the possibility.”
D’Antoni, who recently underwent knee surgery, was expected to be formally introduced as coach this week.
Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash have both supported the appointment, according to the Lakers’ Web site on Monday, and other players around the league who have played for D’Antoni praised the coach.
Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin, whose breakthrough came last season in New York before the Knicks parted ways with D’Antoni, told reporters in Houston that D’Antoni made his career.
“He gave me confidence in running the offense,” Lin said. “He gives his players the confidence and freedom to go out and play to the best of their abilities. That’s what he did for me last year.”