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Mike D'Antoni's legacy may not reside in Phoenix and that's OK

Mike D’Antoni has left two blazed trails during his time in the NBA.

The former Phoenix Suns coach first changed the way the pro game was played. Then he left messes in the two biggest media markets in the league.

D’Antoni decided late Wednesday night that he’d had enough of Los Angeles. He stepped down as the Lakers coach with the team deciding not to pick up his contract option to return after the 2014-15 season. It’s the third time D’Antoni has left relatively on his own terms, and based on what we know about the evolving resumes of NBA head coaches, the proud former Suns coach who brought the Seven Seconds or Less offensive to the Valley faces an unknown future.

Based on the past, we all know he doesn’t regret a thing.

 

The way D’Antoni left a troubled Lakers franchise was seemingly similar to when he mutually agreed with Knicks owner James Dolan to depart from the Knicks. And it feels much less messy than the time he left the Suns, at least considering reports indicated it was over a spoiled relationship with then-general manager Steve Kerr.

When D’Antoni visited Phoenix with the Lakers and Steve Nash in January of 2013, he refused to admit that the how of leaving the Suns bothered him. There was more regret in how his time with the Suns went so quickly.

“I don’t know about the departure,” he said. “I just think the whole thing, just enjoy it more, appreciate it more and maybe to be a little bit more aware of how good it was. It was pretty good.”

Over the course of four-plus seasons in Phoenix, D’Antoni won 65 percent of his regular-season games and finished with a record of 253-136. Elsewhere in his NBA career — a stint with Denver, his first coaching job, and then with the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers following his time in Phoenix — D’Antoni went 202-290 for a winning percentage of 41 percent. The disparity in his success in Phoenix and elsewhere becomes more apparent in the postseason. D’Antoni went 26-25 in the playoffs with the Suns and 0-8 in two playoff appearances with New York and Los Angeles.

Context makes one thing clear: D’Antoni had it good with the Suns and quite bad with big-pocketed franchises who didn’t know how to spend their money in the right ways.

“It’s a phase in your career or life where it was almost perfect,” D’Antoni said of the Suns. “We had great guys, great management … the fans were great, great weather. Everything, there’s nothing you could ask for four years that was better than that.”

D’Antoni remains widely-respected, a national team assistant coach whose philosophies have changed the way some of the best coaches in the world think. Look no further than Mike Krzyzewski’s offense at Duke and you’ll know that D’Antoni’s impact on the game goes beyond the NBA.

So now we discuss the obvious.

D’Antoni, who is 62, has failed to adapt in his last two gigs. He’s rubbed a lot of people — Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman were the latest — the wrong way. Managing characters is important, and other than in Phoenix, D’Antoni hasn’t done it well. Conforming to personnel is another thing that hasn’t helped the former Suns coach’s credibility. Again, not all of that is on him.

He’s stubborn, maybe.

In the national perspective, after he’s blazed through New York and LA, will D’Antoni’s legacy be even close to what it might be in Phoenix?

Answer how you will. We know how D’Antoni, a guy not afraid to laugh at himself or reflect on the past, would answer.

“Sometimes you have a bunch of guys that, you think everywhere should be like this, you take for granted how they clicked and how good it was, how much fun it was to watch them every day,” he said last January. “You kind of take it for granted. You chase a championship … and sometimes you should take care of it a little bit better.”

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