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Mike D’Antoni: Satisfaction of changing the game would pale in comparison to ring

New Orleans Pelicans v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

At the end of a True Hoop profile of Mike D’Antoni and how he changed basketball, the Nets assistant coach (and “offensive coordinator”) says that while it’s great to be recognized, he’s keeping his eye on the prize.

“Sure, it gives you a little satisfaction,” D’Antoni told Tom Haberstroh. “But I’ll tell you what, I’d trade that satisfaction for a championship.”

The ring is the thing for D’Antoni who will turn 70 next month. Everything else he did revolutionizing the game with his point guard-turned-boss Steve Nash pales in comparison.

And there’s no doubt that they did. Prior to his taking the job of head coach in Phoenix, it was a big man’s game. Shaquile O’Neal, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett ruled. D’antoni decided that he could get a competitive advantage through spacing.

“You’re not going to beat Shaq if you rolled out a conventional center—he’s going to destroy him,” D’Antoni said. “You’re just playing for second place, basically. We had Nash and Stoudemire and we thought, ‘Well, why not?’ Let’s try this.”

Haberstroh laid out how spacing freed things up. No longer was the game tied exclusively to a pivot-centered offense. It was time to open it up.

D’Antoni felt that Nash and Stoudemire would be unguardable in space, and the do-everything star Shawn Marion could thrive at the four. D’Antoni designed an up-tempo offense that got out in transition, utilized a spread pick-and-roll with shooters patrolling the perimeter, and empowered guards who—thanks to a rule change—couldn’t be hand-checked anymore. Quentin Richardson, a shooting guard who was signed in the offseason, started in Voskuhl’s place and Q-Rich promptly led the NBA in 3s.

The league took notice and didn’t just award him the Coach of the Year or Nash the MVP, but mimicked the Suns. While D’Antoni credits the increasing skill set of NBA players, Haberstroh notes that the NBA’s offensive efficiency began with the Suns era and keeps rising. And it’s no surprise that the Nets are likely to be the most efficient offense ever.

“We did something unique in Phoenix and I’m proud of it,” D’Antoni said. “The overall fact is that we were just a little ahead.”

Haberstroh also wrote about D’Antoni and James Harden’s tenure in Houston ... and how his strategies were aided by the dawn of analytics, whose leading advocate was his GM, Daryl Morey.

The Rockets bucked convention. D’Antoni put the ball in Harden’s hands, spread the floor and more often than not, magic happened. Not a point guard by any traditional standard, Harden led the league in assists, commanding the offense with authority. Harden’s average time of possession skyrocketed from 6.6 minutes per game in 2015-16 to 9.3 minutes per game under D’Antoni.

And again, D’antoni won coach of the year, the Rockets kept winning and Harden finished ninth, second, first, second and third in the MVP voting. “It’s good to think that I wasn’t completely crazy,” D’Antoni said. “That’s all.”

Now of course, he’s on the bench next to his protege’ and he’s happy to have Nash assume the responsibility of the big job.

“I sleep so much better,” D’Antoni says laughing. “I tell Steve (Nash) all the time: I hate it when we lose, but I’m gonna go home and go to bed. You need to worry about this shit for tomorrow.”