By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Los Angeles Lakers will not have their new coach on the sidelines for Friday's home game against the Phoenix Suns but Mike D'Antoni's players have enthusiastically embraced the up-tempo style he has promised.
Renowned for the offense-minded approach he adopted while in charge of the Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks, D'Antoni has pledged more of the same in Los Angeles after being signed to a three-year deal.
"I'm genuinely excited about it," said five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant, a huge fan as a child of D'Antoni's basketball play in Italy, where Bryant grew up. Bryant later got to know D'Antoni well when he was an assistant coach on the U.S. national team.
"The fact that I'm genuinely excited about it, Steve (Nash) is, Dwight (Howard) is, Pau (Gasol) is, it makes it easier for everyone else to fall in line behind that."
Bryant, who has described D'Antoni as an "offensive genius", was delighted by the number of pick-and-roll routines during the Lakers' first practice session with their new coach on Thursday.
"We'll do a lot of that," Bryant said. "We'll put them in positions where they have to pick and choose what they're going to do. Then it's on us or the ball-handler to make the right decision.
"This is obviously easier to adapt to," he said of D'Antoni's style compared to the more complicated Princeton offense attempted by Mike Brown, who was fired as Lakers coach a week ago after the team made a dismal 1-4 start to the season.
"We have a lot of guys here who are extremely skilled from a basketball standpoint and can do a myriad of things. It's a pretty seamless transition for us."
D'Antoni, who had knee replacement surgery earlier this month but expects to be fit enough to take charge of his first Lakers game on Sunday, has urged his new team to play Showtime-type basketball.
"He said we should be scoring 110-plus points per game," said six-time All-Star Dwight Howard who moved to Los Angeles from Orlando in a blockbuster four-team trade. "We're excited.
"Everything he's done with the teams he's had in terms of how they push the ball and how they play in the open court, I think it'll be good for Steve and for all of us."
Though the Lakers have gone 2-1 under interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff since the abrupt departure of Brown, D'Antoni faces a challenging task with an ageing team roster and lofty expectations from fans long accustomed to success.
Twice former Most Valuable Player Nash, the point guard in Phoenix under D'Antoni's charge, has missed the past six games due to a leg injury and is not expected to return until at least Sunday, against the Houston Rockets.
"My biggest thing right now is I don't want to put too much out there," D'Antoni said. "We're going to win some games by the energy level and by just playing until we get things sorted out.
"When we get Steve Nash (back), it's going to be a lot easier because he knows the offense."
Asked how long he felt it would take to get the Lakers accustomed to his offense, D'Antoni replied: "With Steve Nash, when we got him in Phoenix, it took him an hour-and-a-half.
"We threw him out there and we couldn't get off the floor. I expect the same thing. He'll run the offense like nothing. For the other guys, it's very simple. The process should not be long and it should not be tedious at all.
"The assembly of players and the experience that is here is incredible right now. It's our (the coaches') job and Steve's job to get everybody on the same page and understanding that: 'Hey, this is how we're going to win a championship'."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Gene Cherry)