Minutes later the Suns hold their first meeting at the McKale Center. Mike's opening remarks should be piped into locker rooms throughout the NBA, which has grown tedious from too little fast-breaking and too much play-calling. "We're in the entertainment business," D'Antoni tells his players. "Our fans came out last year because we were exciting to watch. The NBA wants an up-tempo game because they can sell it better. And when you start cutting up the pie, it's a lot bigger when the fans respond."
He goes over the offensive goals, one of which I find particularly interesting. The Suns were seventh last season in fewest turnovers committed, but he would like them to be in the top three. Running at breakneck speed would seem to induce a high turnover rate, but Mike doesn't see it that way. "We only make two or three passes a possession because we're looking to score quick," he tells his team. "So we should be real good in that area."
Assistant video coordinator Noel Gillespie has several fast breaks cued up. Mike provides the commentary. "Now, watch [Zydrunas] Ilgauskas on this play," he says, referring to the Cleveland Cavaliers' center. "He gets a dunk on us and, hell, he's feeling good. Next thing you know Ilgauskas is.... Oh, s-! There goes Amar� pounding up the floor, right by his sorry ass, for a dunk on the other end." Everyone laughs. "Fellas, you have any idea how that frustrates a team? We have got to keep running."
Out on the court, in the first of the two daily practices, Dan's zigzag variation goes well. It's time for Iavaroni's closeout drill, which calls for the coaches to work the ball around the perimeter, catching and pivoting as players chop-step toward them. It's much more intense than that, though. The players wave their arms, yell and, on occasion, take physical liberties. "The main reason Mike was happy to get the head job," Weber tells me, "was that he didn't have to be in any more drills."
I watch a couple of reps, and then Quinter signals for me to replace him. Before I know it, Marion is running toward me like a madman, yelling, to the extent I remember, "Hey! What you got! Where you going!" To punctuate his enthusiasm, he whaps me across the mouth with an open hand. The next few times I get the ball, I pivot more aggressively, holding my elbows out.
During a break I ask Dan, who has also just finished his first NBA drill, what surprised him. "The speed, size and quickness of the players," he says. "You get the ball, they're on you. The court seems small."
Later I ask Marion if he hit me on purpose. "Nah, man," he says with a smile. "It's just part of the drill. Coaches get hit."
NOTHING LIKE A MASSAGE
On the way to McKale, I ask if I can borrow one of the coaches' rental cars after practice. "I have to find a Radio Shack," I say. "My phone's not taking a charge."