The Lakers’ next head coach won’t be Phil Jackson.
It will be Mike D’Antoni.
“Dr. Buss, Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak were unanimous that Mike was the best coach for the team at this time,” Lakers spokesman John Black said. “He signed a multi-year contract. We will look to hold a press conference as soon as possible later in the week.”
The hiring is somewhat surprising considering Jackson was considered the favorite. He had met with Kupchak and Jim Buss on Saturday to discuss the job in what would be his third time coaching the Lakers. Jackson won five of his 11 NBA titles in two separate stints with the Lakers (1999-2004, 2005-2011).
Though Jackson’s health has improved since retiring May, 2011, sources close to him had indicated in recent days that he wanted to iron out the extent of his travel arrangements. He had long complained about the grinding NBA schedule, including long flights and late meals. Considering Jackson was considered the favored candidate, it’s currently unclear what led to the Lakers passing him over.
Instead, the Lakers signed D’Antoni to a three-year deal worth $12 million. The Lakers have a team option for his fourth season. D’Antoni, 61, coached the New York Knicks last season and the Phoenix Suns before that.
It remains unclear when D’Antoni will start. He’s still seeking medical clearance to fly after having knee replacement surgery. The source indicated that process could take at least a day. Meanwhile, Bernie Bickerstaff has served as the Lakers’ interim coach.
“He was clearly convinced this was Phil’s job to lose,” said a source close to D’Antoni who wasn’t authorized to discuss publicly about it.
According to sources, the Lakers interviewed D’Antoni over the phone on Saturday and then followed up with him in an interview on Sunday. Following the Lakers’ 103-90 victory Sunday over the Sacramento Kings, D’Antoni signed the contract via fax between 11:30-11:45 p.m.
Jackson received plenty of public endorsements, ranging from Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. Still, D’Antoni earned public praise from key Lakers figures before and after the Lakers’ 103-90 victory Sunday over the Sacramento Kings from both Bryant and Nash.
“They know how I feel about Phil. They know how I feel about D’Antoni,” said Bryant, who has played for him as an assistant in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. “That’s the extent of it.”
D’Antoni was forced to resign last season with the Knicks after an 18-24 start. D’Antoni compiled a 388-339 coaching record. He led the Suns to the Western Conference finals in 2005 and 2006 with Nash at the helm.
“I love Mike,” Nash said, who played four seasons and won two MVP awards under D’Antoni in Phoenix.. “If he were the coach, it would be seamless and terrific for me and the team as well.”
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