Mike D'Antoni era begins: Reality sinks in for Lakers that Phil Jackson isn't coming back

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – It took a while for the big news to sink in for Pau Gasol that Phil Jackson wasn't returning to coach the Los Angeles Lakers for a third time.

He read about it late Sunday on Twitter that Mike D'Antoni was the Lakers' surprise hire, but didn't believe it until the team made it official.

"Everybody had expectations about it," Gasol said after practice Monday. "They were all pretty high. We all understand what Phil brings to the table and how successful he has been since he's been here and what he means to the city, to the franchise.

"It couldn't happen. It couldn't be for whatever the reasons are. So we move forward. That's what we do as professionals."

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Said Lakers center Dwight Howard: "Well, I know [fans] wanted Phil to be here, but management had to do what they thought was best for the team. [D'Antoni] and us players have to find a way to win."

The coaching move, a "unanimous choice" according to the Lakers' front office, seemed to surprise even Jackson, who said in a statement he thought he had more time to decide whether to return to compete for a 12th overall championship and sixth with the Lakers.

"No contractual terms were discussed and we [GM Mitch Kupchak and vice president Jim Buss] concluded with a handshake and an understanding that I would have until Monday to come back to them with my decision," Jackson said. "I did convey to them that I did have the confidence that I could do the job. I was awakened at midnight Sunday by a phone call from Mitch Kupchak. He told me that the Lakers had signed Mike D'Antoni to a three-year agreement and that they felt he was the best coach for the team."

Jackson was the front-runner to replace second-year coach Mike Brown after he was fired last Friday following a 1-4 start. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant endorsed Jackson, but also said D'Antoni would be a solid hire, too. Bryant was unavailable to comment Monday, leaving practice early to take a helicopter ride to Orange County.

The Lakers expect D'Antoni to get medical clearance to fly and arrive in Los Angeles late Wednesday but are uncertain if D'Antoni's coaching debut will take place Friday again Phoenix. For now, the team will continue to be led by interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff, who briefly worked with D'Antoni with the Denver Nuggets. Bickerstaff will coach Tuesday's game against the San Antonio Spurs. He doesn't know if he, or the rest of the staff, will be retained.

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In the meantime, the Lakers prepare for life with D'Antoni and his fast-paced offense.

"It should be a fun system to play in," Gasol said. "There are a lot of opportunities. An up-tempo, unselfish type of game, too. We all look forward to working with it and exploring the options."

Do the Lakers have the personnel to flourish?

"Even though we are older we can still get up and down the court," Antawn Jamison said. "Offense isn't our problem. We need to improve on the defensive end."

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