PHOENIX - Mike D'Antoni did his best Saturday to downplay his role with the 76ers.
In his first official day on the job, the team's new associate head coach adeptly sidestepped a question about how much influence Jerry Colangelo had on his accepting the position.
He made it a point to say that head coach Brett Brown is a great person and that he runs the show. As D'Antoni tells it, he's here only because of circumstances.
"I found out that you can't play golf in the wintertime. So you have to go back to work," he said jokingly hours before the Sixers faced the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
"But I'm just happy to be here," D'Antoni added. "But the biggest factor why I am here: Brett is a great guy. You know, after a while, you just want to be around people, and they are good people.
"From all I've heard, the players are buying in and are good guys. And as coach, that's all you want."
In addition to helping Brown, a source said the former head coach is with the team to be the eyes and ears of Colangelo, who will remain in Phoenix, more than 2,000 miles from Philadelphia.
He didn't have to do much of that Saturday because Colangelo, the team's chairman of basketball operations, was with the team.
The Hall of Famer addressed the Sixers before the morning shootaround. Colangelo stayed in the Suns' practice gym to watch practice and conversed with general manager Sam Hinkie and front office employee Brandon Williams, among others. Colangelo also was on hand for Saturday's game.
"It's great [being reunited with Colangelo]," said D'Antoni, who coached under him with the Suns. "I already owe him dinner because Grand Canyon beat Marshall the other day, which really ticked me off."
The two have a relationship dating to their days with the Suns in the early 2000s. Colangelo is the former Suns owner and was a longtime cornerstone of the franchise. D'Antoni went 253-136 in five seasons as Suns coach. They also worked together on the USA Basketball staff, where Colangelo serves as the chairman.
On Saturday, it was as if D'Antoni hadn't left. He jokingly complained to a couple of Suns employees about the Sixers' having to conduct a shootaround in the practice gym while the Suns worked out on the game court. Then the 64-year-old, who resides in his native West Virginia, chatted with a member of the Phoenix media about each other's families.
He is familiar with the Suns, but the Sixers are a foreign team to him right now. Trying to get up to speed, he spent the last week watching as many Sixers games as possible. He surely didn't come away with a lot of positives.
The Sixers headed into the matchup Saturday with a 1-30 record and a 12-game losing streak. They were 0-18 in road games this season.
So D'Antoni was asked for his impression of the state of the 76ers and what they need to work on.
"Well I don't know," he said. "You always have to work on the same stuff that everybody in the league works on, getting a little bit more mature. . . . That's always a process.
"They are going through a process, and I know it hasn't been easy on anybody. Nobody is happy. But just keep plugging away. That's a big part of it."
Apparently, D'Antoni made an impression on the players at the shootaround.
"It was great," Nerlens Noel said. "Him just installing one set, you see his expertise in the offense and pick-and-roll basketball. You already see some things that he can help us with."
Noel had better not let D'Antoni hear him say that.
The man with 12 years of NBA head coaching experience is doing his best to remain out of the limelight. He said that Saturday morning would be the last time he addressed the media.
"This is Brett's gig," said D'Antoni, who added that he would welcome remaining on Brown's staff past this season. "Brett does the coaching, and I just try to play off of him and try to help when I can."