Monday, November 12, 2012

Lakers name Mike D'Antoni as new head coach

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Los Angeles Lakers hired Mike D'Antoni late Sunday night, signing the former coach of the Suns and Knicks to replace Mike Brown.

The Lakers and D'Antoni's agent, Warren LeGarie, confirmed the deal two days after the Lakers fired Brown five games into the season.

D'Antoni agreed to a three-year deal worth $12 million, with a team option for a fourth season.
D'Antoni got the high-profile job running the 16-time NBA champions only after the club's top brass extensively discussed the job with former Lakers coach Phil Jackson.

The 11-time NBA champion coach met with Lakers owners Jerry and Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak on Saturday to weigh a return for a third stint on Los Angeles' bench.

The Lakers instead went with D'Antoni, a respected offensive strategist who coached Lakers point guard Steve Nash in Phoenix during the best years of their respective careers. D'Antoni was less successful during four seasons in New York, but at least restored the once-moribund Knicks to competence before resigning last March.

''Dr. (Jerry) Buss, Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak unanimously agreed that Mike was the best coach for this roster at this time,'' Lakers spokesman John Black said.

The 61-year-old D'Antoni underwent knee replacement surgery earlier this month, and could be physically limited early in his tenure. Black said the Lakers aren't certain when D'Antoni will travel to Los Angeles to begin work.

Interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff will continue running the Lakers until D'Antoni arrives. Los Angeles beat Sacramento 103-90 on Sunday night, improving to 2-0 under Bickerstaff after a 1-4 start under Brown.
The Lakers' next game is Tuesday night against San Antonio at Staples Center.

After Brown's dismissal, Nash and Kobe Bryant both expressed enthusiasm about the prospect of playing for D'Antoni, although Bryant also campaigned eagerly for Jackson.

Bryant idolized D'Antoni while growing up in Italy, where D'Antoni was a star player for Olimpia Milano in the Italian pro league. D'Antoni also has been an assistant coach on various U.S. national teams featuring Bryant, including the gold medal-winning squad at the London Olympics.

Nash won two MVP awards while running D'Antoni's signature up-tempo offense for the final four seasons of the coach's five-year tenure with the Suns.

Nash and D'Antoni won at least 54 games each season and reached two Western Conference finals - and they eliminated Bryant's Lakers from the first round of the playoffs in 2006 and 2007, still the only first-round exits of Kobe's 17-year career.

***

In a stunning development late Sunday night, the Los Angeles Lakers opted to sign former Knicks and Suns coach Mike D’Antoni to a four-year deal as their next coach, ending negotiations with 11-time NBA champion coach Phil Jackson. He was believed to be the prohibitive favorite to replace Mike Brown, who was fired last Friday.

D’Antoni and former Lakers, Blazers, Bucks and Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy interviewed with the Lakers over the weekend. But they were fallbacks, interviews done just in case the Lakers, somehow, could not reach a deal with the 67-year-old Jackson, who’d won five titles in Los Angeles during two stints as head coach.

But the Lakers could not reach agreement with Jackson, whose representatives had made it clear last summer that Jackson wanted a much bigger role in any organization that he joined, with hiring authority for coaches and other positions in the organization.

Negotiations with Jackson ended Sunday night, and the Lakers called D’Antoni’s agent, Warren LeGarie, as their home game against the Kings was ending. The two sides quickly worked out a contract somewhat along the lines of what Brown — another LeGarie client — received, though specific dollar amounts were not immediately available.

The Lakers never contacted other potential coaching candidates like former Blazers coach Nate McMillan, or former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.

In the end, D’Antoni’s relationships both with Steve Nash, whom he helped get two MVPs in Phoenix, and with Kobe Bryant, who has known D’Antoni since he was finishing his playing career in Italy when a young Bryant lived there, made him the choice over Dunleavy.

D’Antoni’s Suns gave as good as they got with the Lakers in the playoffs, rallying from a 3-1 deficit to defeat L.A. in a 2006 first-round series. And his “Seven Seconds or Less” offensive system, which demanded pushing the ball up court — even after opponents scored — to get a good shot early in the shot clock, was much more in line with the old “Showtime” Lakers of Magic Johnson than the halfcourt-based Princeton offense that Brown tried to run.

***

The Lakers could have had Jackson. Jerry Buss could have made things uneasy for son Jim Buss and paid the money necessary to make it worth Phil's while to save the Lakers' floundering fortunes for the third time in 13 years, and the Lakers could have decided that with the team's massive payroll and the millions they're still on the hook to pay Mike Brown over the next few years that they may as well go ahead and pay the coach Kobe wanted the most. Instead, they picked up Kobe's second choice, and it's probably the best deal for all involved.

It's true the Lakers players weren't listening to Phil when he and the team uneasily parted for the second time in 2011, same as was the case in 2004, but a few years away tends to change that. That's the guess, at least. It would have been a marvelous pairing once again, but one we'll never get to see.

For those disappointed in ego and money and control (those minor things) getting in the way of something special again, D'Antoni's presence is superb consolation.

***

Phil Jackson was prepared to return to the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday morning if negotiations between his agent and the team went well, a league source told ESPNLosAngeles.com late Sunday night.

When the Lakers called to tell Jackson that they had instead chosen Mike D'Antoni to be their next head coach, he was "stunned," according to the source, because he had been under the impression "it was his job to turn down," although no formal offer had ever been made.

Sources over the weekend said Jackson had made significant contract demands, including salary, personnel decisions and the ability to skip some road games, but ESPN NBA analyst Kurt Rambis -- who has since spoken to Jackson; the two are close friends -- said that was never the case.

Rambis, a former Lakers player and assistant coach who worked on Jackson-led staffs from 2001-2004 and 2005-2009 and remains close friends with Jackson, said Jackson told him there had never been any discussions of salary or restrictions on a potential return, and that he and the Lakers had agreed to wait until Monday to negotiate.

***

Between the hours of Mike Brown's firing and a meeting on Saturday morning with history's most accomplished coach, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak privately told people there was one candidate: Phil Jackson.

Jackson wanted to humiliate Lakers vice president Jim Buss far more than he wanted to coach the team. He wanted significant allowances on travel, coaching duties and an ability to veto player personnel moves that didn't fit his vision. With an unprecedented 11 coaching championships, Jackson had every right to make unprecedented demands. He doesn't have the right to be surprised when the Lakers rejected them and hired a pliable, cheaper coach in Mike D'Antoni.

"Phil wanted Jim Buss to walk away with his tail between his legs," one source with knowledge of the discussions told Yahoo! Sports. "He thought he had time to still negotiate with them, and see how much they would give him."

Now, the Lakers are going out of their way to spare Jackson the embarrassment of his overreaching, but this is pointless spin. They're working with him to sell the public that he hadn't asked for too much, that somehow the franchise chose D'Antoni over Jackson on sheer merit. It's noble, but laughable. Jackson heard those chants in the Staples Center and never believed the Lakers had the guts to call his bluff before circling back to him on Monday.

"Phil's assistants convinced him that they had his back on the concerns [Jackson] had about his load as head coach, and he was ready to get a deal done on Monday," a source with knowledge of the talks said. "But this was about Jim Buss giving him a royal you-know-what in the end."

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