Because of that, it was hard to decipher exactly what the Lakers' coach was thinking Thursday night as he watched Carmelo Anthony, the superstar he had never been able to get to play consistently like a superstar, score his 22nd point of the first quarter.
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They couldn't have been happy thoughts, because the Lakers' 116-107 loss to the Knicks was the opposite of a triumphant return. D'Antoni, who coached the Knicks for 31/2 seasons before resigning last March, is struggling with the Lakers (9-14), losers of four in a row.
Things went from bad to worse afterward as D'Antoni's current superstar, Kobe Bryant, issued a somewhat veiled dig at the man who has been his coach for the last 13 games.
"Melo was sensational throughout the game," Bryant said when asked about Anthony's 30-point effort. "He just came out with a fire, but honestly, he's just playing the way he's always played throughout his career. He's just in an environment where they encourage and celebrate that and encourage him to be who he is."
The implication is that Anthony was not in this kind of environment when he was playing under D'Antoni. And just in case that wasn't clear, Bryant added that Anthony told him last summer at the Olympics how tough the past season had been on him.
"He was criticized a lot for shooting and playing the way he likes to play," Bryant said.
Before the game, D'Antoni refused to blame Anthony for his problems, but he also refused to give him an abundance of credit for what the Knicks (17-5) are doing this season.
"He's playing terrific. He's got some great players around him, and Mike Woodson is doing a hell of a job," D'Antoni said, adding that he could have used veteran guards like Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd last season when he was standing in front of the Knicks' bench.
D'Antoni said before the game that he has "no bitterness" about his time in New York. He added that an interview last month in which he said he "shouldn't have gone to New York" had been misconstrued, saying that what he meant is that he shouldn't have left Phoenix and point guard Steve Nash to come here.
D'Antoni didn't have Nash here. For his first two seasons, he had a revolving door of players as the Knicks set themselves up to reload in free agency and make a run at LeBron James. Eventually, they got Anthony instead, and for a while it worked all right for D'Antoni, whose Knicks got back to the playoffs in the spring of 2011.
But last season, things fell apart. Or as D'Antoni said Thursday: "Things went sideways."
It's hard to say how D'Antoni will be remembered in New York. He was booed before the game, but not in the venomous way that Pat Riley or Reggie Miller or James have been booed here. D'Antoni's booing was almost a perfunctory "we've moved on'' boo.
Moved on, in a different direction.