LOS ANGELES -- A day after Los Angeles Lakers manager Mitch Kupchak said Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni would be back next season, D’Antoni was named the NBA Western Conference coach of the Month for games played in April, the NBA announced Thursday.
Mike Woodson, who was D’Antoni’s former assistant and replaced him as the coach of the New York Knicks, was named the NBA Eastern Conference Coach of the Month.
D’Antoni guided the Lakers (along with the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers) to the best record in the conference in April at 7-1. The Lakers won five straight games to close the season, including three over Western Conference playoff teams -- Golden State, San Antonio and Houston, the final two without the services of Kobe Bryant, who tore his Achilles tendon with over three minutes left in a tie game with Golden State. The seventh-seeded Lakers finished the season 45-37 and will face San Antonio in the first round of the playoffs beginning Sunday.
There had been talk of D’Antoni’s job security with the Lakers on the verge of not making the playoffs entering the final week of the season, but Kupchak put that talk to rest after the Lakers defeated Houston on Wednesday to secure a playoff berth and a seven seed, which seemed out of the question on Jan. 23 when the D’Antoni and the Lakers held a team meeting with the Lakers languishing with a 17-25 record.
The Lakers have since gone 28-12 to finish the season, which is what D’Antoni predicted the Lakers would have to do to make it into the playoffs.
"I think under the circumstances, Mike did a great job. We don't anticipate any kind of a change," Kupchak told ESPNLosAngeles.com. "No training camp, all the injuries, through the end of the season he's done a great job."
D'Antoni took over as the Lakers coach after Mike Brown was fired just five games into the season after the team started 1-4 with a star-studded lineup that include Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant.
The lineup, however, was rarely on the court together as D'Antoni went just 12-20 out of the gates as the Lakers struggled with injuries, especially to their point guards Nash and Steve Blake. The Lakers’ “Big Four” of Bryant, Gasol, Howard and Nash were only able to 22 games together this season as D’Antoni continuously mixed and matched lineups.
"He doesn't get enough credit, and understandably so," Kupchak said. "We struggled through two-thirds of the season, and expectations were so high. The Lakers didn't help things by making the coaching change and putting Mike in that situation, which he was glad to take. But I think it was a little bit tougher than he thought it would be."