PHOENIX -- In a job where control freaks abound, Mike D'Antoni believes in turning the game over to his players.
The philosophy not only resulted in an NBA-best 62-20 record for
his Phoenix Suns, it won him the league's coach of the year award
"He's the reason we play the way we do,'' Suns forward Quentin Richardson said. "He put the team out there and wanted us to play
that way, so he's certainly the coach of the year in my book.''
The easygoing Suns coach, who spent two decades in Italy as a
star point guard, then highly successful coach, received 41
first-place votes and 326 points overall from a panel of sports
writers and broadcasters from the United States and Canada.
Rick Carlisle of Indiana was second with 26 first-place votes
and 241 points. Nate McMillan of Seattle was a close third with 234
points and 30 first-place ballots.
"It's an unbelievable honor,'' D'Antoni said at a news
conference. "I was just honored to be mentioned with them, and to
really win it is beyond my wildest expectations. It's not something
that I did. There are so many people involved.''
After Phoenix acquired Steve Nash and Richardson, D'Antoni
decided to go with a small, speedy lineup, persuading Amare Stoudemire to switch from power forward to center, and Shawn Marion to shift from small forward to power forward.
The combination worked far beyond the expectations of anyone in
the Suns' organization, averaging 110 points per game, the most in
the NBA in a decade. The 33-win turnaround in one season was the
third-best in NBA history.
The coach and Nash, named the league's most valuable player on
Sunday, became partners in developing a style that has been widely
praised around the NBA.
"We didn't really need to talk about it that much,'' Nash said.
"We just have the same feelings about the game in a lot of ways.''
D'Antoni gives Nash the freedom to create whatever he feels is
best on the court, and leaves the game largely to his players.
The son of a prominent high school coach in West Virginia, he
said he's always coached that way.
"I think that the best way to get things out of players is
trusting them and their instincts,'' he said. "I just don't
believe that when you take men -- and they are men -- that you're
going to change them much.''
D'Antoni thanked virtually everyone in the Suns organization by
name, down to the last player on the bench. At the end of his list,
he thanked his wife Laurel and 11-year-old son Michael, then choked
up with emotion and had to pause.
D'Antoni said his time in Italy allowed him to develop as a
person and a coach. His first two years, he said, "I had no car,
no phone, no TV. I read about a book a day. I'm not kidding. That's
about 600 books, and a new world opened up to me.''
The 54-year-old's first stint as an NBA head coach was with
Denver, where he went 14-36 in the lockout-shortened 1999 season.
He was fired at the end of the season and general manager Dan
Issel named himself coach. D'Antoni was a scout with San Antonio
and an assistant to coach Mike Dunleavy in Portland before
returning to Italy in 2001.
A year later, he was lured back to the NBA to become an
assistant to Suns coach Frank Johnson. When Johnson was fired in
December 2003, D'Antoni took over.
That cleared salary cap room for the signing of Nash and
Suns president Bryan Colangelo thanked D'Antoni for supporting
the long-term plan through the many losses last season and creating
a friendly environment.
"Mike's likeability and his personality and his character seem
to shine through,'' Colangelo said. "Everywhere he goes, people
like Mike D'Antoni.''