You can hear it in his voice. You can see it in his smile. You can sense it even in the wake of reconstructive knee surgery, and in the face of Phil Jackson's smothering shadow.
The same Mike D'Antoni who couldn't make it to the microphone Thursday for his first news conference in Lakerland without the help of a crutch to take the weight off of his new left knee used the next 45 minutes trying to make sure everyone understands that he considers himself to be the luckiest coach on the face of the Earth.
"Not too many people in this game have a chance to coach a Steve Nash," D'Antoni told ESPN.com later that evening. "And I'm getting a second chance.
Nash is bound to gush the same way as soon as his blasted left leg heals. This isn't the best time to ask him to gauge how fortunate he's feeling when he knows, as a voracious student of body mechanics ever since he and D'Antoni first united in the desert in summer 2004, that he'd have probably been back on the floor by now if the impact of his Halloween night collision with Portland rookie Damian Lillard was an inch or two away from the unfortunate spot where he took the hit and hobbled off with a fractured fibula.
"I can't remember the last time I had a broken bone," Nash says. "I probably haven't missed this much time for 10 years. But I'm generally an optimist. I'm a little bit consumed with my health right now, but it's going to be amazing to get a chance to play for Mike again. I'm excited for the opportunity to play for a great team and to try to build a great team."
The 38-year-old has stopped trying to forecast how much longer he'll be sidelined after two-plus long weeks as a spectator. He's likewise a full-fledged Canadian diplomat, as you'd expect, when asked to reflect on what it was like to try to run Mike Brown's ill-fated Princeton offense. In stark contrast to the unforgettable way our Kevin Arnovitz once described his little buddy's transition from D'Antoni to Terry Porter -- like "a hummingbird trapped in a sandwich bag" -- Nash says of the Princeton: "I bought in and I tried to make it work."
The relief in his voice is clear, though, when the subject shifts to projecting what sort of strategic impact D'Antoni's arrival will have on the Lakers' title-or-bust prospects. For all of the legit questions about the manner and timing of the Lakers' decision to fire Brown and then hire D'Antoni when the whole basketball world (D'Antoni included) was bracing for Jackson's return, Nash has plenty to say about what used to be known as Seven Seconds Or Less and how it'll look in Los Angeles in place of Jackson's championship-tested Triangle.
Here's Nash on D'Antoni's offense in general and whether it can do for Dwight Howard as a roll man to the rim what it did for Amar'e Stoudemire: "I think it's going to be great for him. Dwight's had a rough year physically, not playing for a long time. He's not himself yet, but offensively Mike will (help us) figure it out. In Phoenix, we didn't throw the ball into the post and I'm sure we're going to do that more now. Sometimes it'll look like Phoenix and other times it'll look like something new. Things will evolve, which takes time."
On fears that the Lakers don't have enough perimeter shooters to properly space the floor like D'Antoni's Suns team did: "I think on all of Mike's teams, guys emerge as 3-point shooters that were never considered 3-point shooters before. Hopefully with the freedom we'll have (playing in this system) and guys getting better looks, we'll make some shots we haven't been making."
On the theory that Pau Gasol, for all of the talk about how well he functioned in the Triangle, just might find a Boris Diaw-esque niche at the elbow in this offense: "I think there's definitely some similarities. Maybe Pau doesn't go all the way out to the 3-point line as much as Boris did, but getting the ball out of pick-and-rolls and being a playmaker, I can see that as a weapon for us."
On the difference Howard can make to hush those who contend that the D'Antoni approach, heavy on offense and fun, will never come with enough discipline to win it all: "In Phoenix, I think what kept us from winning -- more than bad breaks or anything else -- is that we never had a defensive center. You look at the teams that win and pretty much every year they've got a great defensive center with length. Miami was an exception, but they've got great defenders like LeBron (James) and (Shane) Battier and were such a good defensive team. But that's the bottom line. Sometimes it's just the little things like giving up one too many offensive rebounds or losing on free throws because you're small and you had to foul inside."
And finally on concerns that Kobe Bryant won't be able to accept an offense that revolves around anyone else: "I just don't see that being an issue. Kobe's a natural scorer. He can score in any system. If we had Kobe in Phoenix, it would have been a two-guard-centric offense. Kobe's going to run plenty of pick-and-rolls. Kobe and I can run pick-and-rolls together. I think he looks at Mike like he's also been one of his coaches for the last four, five years (thanks to their time together with Team USA). He feels very familiar with all of this. There's going to plenty of ways for Kobe to score."
It's Nash's contention, furthermore, that the burden that the various stars on this Hollywood set carry will help D'Antoni cope with the daily reminders that he's not Phil. Or that he hasn't won a playoff series since 2007. Or that he's the first Lakers coach without so much as a trip to the NBA Finals on his résumé since Randy Pfund in 1992-93.
"There's going to be a microscope, sure," Nash said, "but I'm sure you (media) guys will be putting pressure on all of us."
Given that Nash and Howard are both chasing their first rings, with Kobe still one shy of Michael Jordan's six, D'Antoni's QB certainly has a point.
Just as Nash, health aside, has ample cause to pinch himself. The Suns certainly didn't have to agree to sign-and-trade him in July to the team they loath more than any other. Nor were the Lakers obligated to reunite him with his favorite boss sooner than anyone could have forecasted.
"It is amazing," Nash said. "It's like my friend Simone says: 'If I had put 10 dollars down on July 1 that you'd be a Laker and D'Antoni would be coaching you, I'd be a millionaire.' "
Maybe nothing can ever settle up the run of misfortune Phoenix suffered at the height of the D'Antoni-and-Nash tag team, starting with Joe Johnson's broken orbital bone in the 2005 playoffs, deepening with the suspensions to Stoudemire and Diaw after Robert Horrybody-checked Nash in the 2007 playoffs and persisting all the way into 2008, when Tim Duncan's dagger 3-pointer from the wing launched the unraveling of the partnership. Yet it's hard to listen to the coach on crutches now, so soon after that messy parting with the Knicks and a superstar in Carmelo Anthony who didn't want to play the D'Antoni way, without thinking that his luck, and Nash's, sure seems to be changing.