Mike D'Antoni stood near the sideline Tuesday with arms folded, smiling as he watched players speed by during full-court drills.
At that moment, he might've been the only one in the gym enjoying himself.
D'Antoni's New York Knicks are going to play fast, just like his Phoenix teams did for the past 4 1/2 seasons. But it takes a lot of work to have that much fun, as the players surely realized while huffing and puffing their way around Skidmore College's gymnasium in the first practice under their new coach.
"I remember that going into college (at Florida), Billy Donovan said we want to press 40 minutes a game, and everybody said, 'Man, that's like such a fun way to play,'" forward David Lee said. "And you get into preseason doing two-a-days and you say, "Oh my God, I can't breathe.' It's a lot harder than it looks on television. It's fun on TV, but it's not. That's the way this is."
It should pay off though, especially for a team that struggled to stick to a style under former coach Isiah Thomas. Thomas wanted to play uptempo two seasons ago, then scrapped that idea last season after acquiring Zach Randolph to pair with Eddy Curry. When his brand of power basketball didn't work, he tried to shift back to a faster pace.
The result was a team that ended up doing nothing particularly well.
D'Antoni is only going one way _ fast _ and it'll be up to his players to keep up. Or, as he put it: "Who can come with us, comes with us."
Though certain his style can win in the NBA, D'Antoni wasn't always sure it was right for the group he was going to inherit in New York. At his introductory press conference in May, he said his preference was to play fast, but he could adapt to the skills of the players around him.
He certainly didn't want to, and now he doesn't think it's necessary.
"Looking at the film and then really watching the last month of basketball in the training center, watching them play, they can do it," D'Antoni said. "So I didn't know that for sure, and coming into a situation I might have to adapt a little bit. But you know what, they can do what we want to be done. So now I'm like real excited because I think we can do what we've preached before, what we've done before and get it done."
The Knicks who practiced Tuesday _ ailing center Curry and injured first-round pick Danilo Gallinari didn't _ spent plenty of time working on D'Antoni's system during full-court drills, learning what spots to run to on the fast break, and where the best shots would come from.
"It's not as easy as you would think it is," guard Jamal Crawford said. "It looks like coming down, shoot whenever you want and that's that. But there's definitely a method to his madness, definitely a lot of hard work, a lot of running, a lot of getting after it."
Gallinari doesn't seem close to returning from a back injury that's sidelined him since July. Curry developed a fever Monday night and was held out because of a bacterial infection _ which D'Antoni joked was probably good for a player who figured to have trouble with all the running.
"It's going to be a struggle at first in training camp and probably some of preseason," Lee said, "not only getting in shape to play this way but figuring out the reads and how everything is going to work and knowing the chemistry on the floor, playing a different style. But once you figure that out, by about that third and fourth quarter when the other team is out of shape and they're tired and you're running the ball ... it all pays off."
D'Antoni said there will be some tweaks, but his main principles will remain the same. That means the Knicks _ a team that barely practiced late last season _ will have to be in superb condition to handle the pace D'Antoni will have them play at.
They held up well Tuesday, but everything usually looks good on opening day.
"Today everybody's got the adrenaline, but three days from now we could be in the mud," D'Antoni said. "We'll see what happens on that one."
Notes:@ Curry was taken to Saratoga Hospital for evaluation, prescribed antibiotics and returned to his hotel room. The Knicks said they will update his condition after waiting 24 to 48 hours to see how he responds to the medication.