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LOS ANGELES – In a surprising turnabout, the Los Angeles Lakers hired Mike D'Antoni as coach late Sunday, passing on another reunion with Phil Jackson, D'Antoni's agent told Yahoo! Sports.
The decision came late Sunday, one day after Lakers officials met with Jackson to discuss the possibility of him becoming the franchise's coach a third time. Jackson, league sources said, was seeking greater personnel control, a relaxed travel schedule and a two-year contract that would pay him at least $10 million a season.
"We signed Mike D'Antoni late tonight to a multi-year contract," Lakers spokesman John Black said in a statement. "Dr. [Jerry] Buss, Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak unanimously agreed that he was the best coach for this roster, at this time. We don't know when Mike will be able to come to L.A. and begin, but Bernie Bickerstaff will continue as interim head coach until then."
D'Antoni, 61, signed a four-year contract with the Lakers, said his agent, Warren LeGarie. He recently underwent knee surgery and is awaiting his doctors' clearance as to when he can travel from New York to Los Angeles. A firm timetable for when he can begin coaching has yet to be established.
"I love him," Kobe Bryant said of D'Antoni via email early Monday. Bryant wouldn't comment on Jackson.
Bickerstaff, who has overseen the Lakers the past two games since Mike Brown was fired, could help ease the transition to D'Antoni. In the middle of a six-game homestand, the Lakers next play Tuesday against the San Antonio Spurs. They are then off until Friday when they face the Phoenix Suns.
D'Antoni and his representatives – like most of the NBA – fully expected Jackson to return to the Lakers and were stunned to hear from team officials Sunday night.
"Mike thought it was a done deal that Phil Jackson was going to be the Lakers coach again," one league source said. "No one was more surprised that it didn't happen than Mike."
The Los Angeles Times first reported D'Antoni's hiring.
D'Antoni's hiring reunites him with All-Star point guard Steve Nash, who signed with the Lakers in the offseason and has been recently sidelined by a leg injury. D'Antoni coached Nash in Phoenix, where they won at least 50 games for four consecutive seasons and advanced to the Western Conference finals in 2005 and '06. D'Antoni left the Suns after the 2007-08 season and was quickly hired to coach the New York Knicks. He went 121-167 in three-plus seasons with the Knicks before resigning on March 14 of last season.
Jackson had been the initial choice of Lakers management, and the team's fans certainly made their preference known, chanting, "We want Phil!" during each of the past two games. Bryant also made clear that he hoped Jackson would return to again coach him. Before Sunday's victory over the Sacramento Kings, Nash said Jackson's return would be a "coup for the franchise."
Lakers officials met with Jackson on Saturday, and one source who had spoken with him thought he was leaning toward returning. With Jackson presumably debating whether to take the job, Lakers officials then spoke with D'Antoni by phone and met with former Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers coach Mike Dunleavy.
Bryant, who, as a child, watched D'Antoni play in Italy, had also said in recent days he would support D'Antoni's hiring.
D'Antoni's hiring came two days after the Lakers fired Brown following four losses in the team's first five games. While Brown's efforts to install the read-and-react Princeton offense this season were resisted by some players, D'Antoni should have no trouble implementing a system that takes full advantage of Nash's skills. D'Antoni's up-tempo, "seven-seconds-or-less" offense made the Suns one of the NBA's most entertaining – and prolific – teams.
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