PARIS -- Mike D'Antoni officially has another man crush -- Timofey Mozgov.
The Knicks coach said yesterday he is considering a three-man starting-center platoon that includes Mozgov, the impressive 7-foot-1 Russian rookie; Ronny Turiaf; and athletic Anthony Randolph.
But the more D'Antoni talked, it's clear he eventually would like to give the job to "Mozgov on the Hudson."
D'Antoni has tried to stop himself from gushing over Mozgov like he used to gush over Danilo Gallinari and David Lee. But D'Antoni has already called Mozgov training camp's brightest light. In the preseason opener, the sturdy center scored a smooth 10 points with five rebounds in 19 minutes.
But D'Antoni is still leery of giving him the starting job at the outset, partly due to the language barrier that reared its ugly head in the Knicks' preseason-opening victory in Milan.
"I'm trying to hold down, curb my enthusiasm," D'Antoni said of Mozgov. "I think he can play. I don't see anything bad."
D'Antoni is making up for the Milicic disaster with his wonderful handling of Mozgov, being viewed as the Knicks' starting center of the future, if not present. They gave Mozgov a three-year, $9.7 million contract this summer, mostly to help him pay for his Russian League buyout. But he's showing also that may be his market value.
D'Antoni even marveled at Mozgov during yesterday's light practice.
"I watched him," D'Antoni said. "He can shot the ball, nice rhythm. He has a learning curve. But he's smart. He makes foul shots. His confidence is good. He's definitely not shying away, attacking the basket."
However, Mozgov, who speaks only a drop of English, experienced a series of defensive lapses but only because he misheard the defensive scheme.
"We changed up our pick-and-roll defense to a zone and over," D'Antoni said. "He only heard zone. And for four plays, I was like, 'Why are they scoring?' He just heard zone."
Meanwhile, the versatile Randolph is struggling enough with his outside shot to lessen D'Antoni's desire to ensure him a starting slot.
And though Turiaf will start again tomorrow, it's mostly because he is the fan attraction in Paris, where he went to high school. The former Golden State center, however, has shown to be an offensive liability, with two turnovers and just five points on Sunday.
"Ronny's going to be an energy guy, block shots, very good defensively," D'Antoni said. "Offensively, that will come. He was out for a while last year, so he's a little rustier than normal."
There is a thought Mozgov is better off coming off the bench for now because he is prone to foul trouble. So the starting-center competition may not have a winner.
"It might be open all year," D'Antoni said. "We could have a revolving door. I'd love to settle down on one but maybe not. But I could see it being different week to week."