The moment Mitch Kupchak, Jim Buss and Phil Jackson parted ways after a meeting Saturday marked a turning point in what’s become a point of contention during the ultimate hiring of Mike D’Antoni.
In a half-hour interview Tuesday here at the Lakers’ practice facility with a panel of beat writers, Kupchak described their meeting at Jackson’s home in Playa del Rey as a “basketball discussion” in the beginning stages of a new coaching search ending this way.
“Where are we now?,” Kupchak asked
“I need some more time,” Jackson answered
“How much more time?” Kupchak asked
“I will get back to you on Monday,” Jackson said.
After clarifying that Jackson would call him directly, Kupchak said he gave the Lakers’ Hall of Fame coach forewarning.
“Phil I have a job to do and I’m going to have to continue my search and interview candidates,” Kupchak recalled saying. “He nodded that he understood.”
The Lakers ultimately signed D’Antoni to a three-year, $12 million deal, with a team option for the fourth season. The Lakers followed a phone interview with D’Antoni on Saturday with what Kupchak described as “multiple phone calls” with D’Antoni prior to the Lakers’ win Sunday over the Sacramento Kings. Kupchak said they decided to hire D’Antoni at 6 p.m, before embarking on a 6 ½ hour session that involved negotiating the deal and faxing the contract to and from D’Antoni’s New York City residence. Kupchak then called Jackson with news he hadn’t expected to hear.
Sources close to Jackson indicated his agent, Todd Musberger, planned to take a red-eye flight Monday morning to Los Angeles to continue negotiating. Jackson also released a statement Monday suggesting the Lakers breached an agreement
“We concluded with a handshake and an understanding that I would have until Monday to come back to them with my decision,” Jackson said in a statement. “I did convey to them that I did have the confidence that I could do the job.”
Kupchak viewed the meeting ending differently.
“Our feeling was there was no agreement to wait for your response on Monday,” he said. “[Phil] told us that’s when he’d get back to us. I can see where he might interpret that as you guys will wait for me. But I thought when I said I had to go on and interview other candidates that it was clear we had a job to do.”
As far as phoning Jackson at midnight, Kupchak said he mulled doing it then or waiting until Monday morning. He tilted toward the former, though, once reports already circulated about D’Antoni’s hiring.
“He’s always a little cryptic on the phone, but I did wake him up,” Kupchak said. “Those kind of situations, there’s not a lot of small talk. Without portraying too much conversations, we talked about the team a little bit, Mike D’Antoni. He was very complimentary of Mike under the circumstances.”
Meanwhile, Kupchak knocked down several reports that suggested Jackson had made plenty of unaccommodating demands, including salary, input in personnel decisions and scaling back on travel arrangements.
There was no discussion of salary in the meeting. I don’t know why there would be. A job wasn’t offered and he didn’t say he wanted the job. We touched briefly on personnel input, which he hoped he would have more input. We talked about the rigors of travel in the NBA. But there was no demand or in depth discussion about missing games.
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