Mike D’Antoni is the new coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and Phil Jackson said he was as surprised as anyone, learning of the team’s decision when he was awakened by a midnight phone call.
Jackson, who won five of his record 11 National Basketball Association titles in Los Angeles, met with Lakers’ Executive Vice President Jim Buss and General Manager Mitch Kupchak for 90 minutes on Nov. 10 about succeeding Mike Brown. Jackson said he reached a handshake agreement that he had until yesterday to make a decision about returning to coaching.
Jackson never got the chance to get back to the Lakers, who early yesterday announced D’Antoni, a former Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks coach, agreed to a multiyear contract. Jackson said it was Kupchak who informed him of the Lakers’ decision to hire D’Antoni in the midnight phone call.
“I did convey to them that I did have the confidence that I could do the job,” Jackson, 67, said last night in a statement. “They felt he was the best coach for the team. The decision is of course theirs to make.”
The Los Angeles Times, citing an unidentified person familiar with the situation, reported yesterday that Jackson had sought an ownership stake in the team. Jackson said in his statement that he “did not solicit or ask for the opportunity” to return to the Lakers and that no contractual terms were discussed during their weekend meeting.
“We concluded with a hand shake and an understanding that I would have until Monday to come back to them with my decision,” Jackson said.
Instead, the Lakers said in a statement a few hours after their Sunday night game that Buss, Kupchak and owner Jerry Buss were unanimous that D’Antoni was the best coach at this time.
The Los Angeles Times said D’Antoni, 61, agreed to a three- year contract worth $12 million.
He inherits a roster that includes 2007-08 NBA Most Valuable Player Kobe Bryant and four-time All-Star Pau Gasol as well as offseason additions Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. The 6- foot-11 Howard is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, while Nash is a two-time NBA MVP who ranks fifth in league history in career assists.
“We’re excited for D’Antoni,” Howard told the Lakers’ website after yesterday’s practice. “It’s a fast-paced offense and everything he’s done with the teams he’s had in terms of how they push the ball and how they play in the open court, I think it’ll be good for Steve and for all of us.”
While in Phoenix, D’Antoni had Nash as his point guard and asked players to get off a shot within seven seconds of gaining possession. With the Knicks last season, he helped in the emergence of Jeremy Lin, the Harvard University product who took over at point guard and led a midseason surge that propelled New York to its first postseason win since 2001.
D’Antoni resigned from the Knicks in March after locker- room bickering and a six-game losing streak left the club with an 18-24 record. He was in the last season of a four-year, $24 million contract with New York.
D’Antoni is expected to arrive in Los Angeles tomorrow or the following day, the team said on its website. Interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff has led the Lakers to two straight wins after a 1-4 start and will be on the bench tonight as the team hosts the San Antonio Spurs. The Lakers will also be without Nash, who is continuing to recover from a fractured fibula.
D’Antoni has a 388-339 coaching record in 10 NBA seasons. During his time in Phoenix, the Suns led the NBA in scoring three straight seasons beginning in 2004-05 and reached the Western Conference finals in 2005 and 2007.
“We’re all excited to have him here and learn his principles and offense and defense,” Gasol said. “It should be a fun system to play in. There are a lot of opportunities with an up-tempo kind of game. We all look forward to working with it and exploiting the options.”
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