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When the Los Angeles Lakers announced late Sunday night that they had hired Mike D'Antoni as their next coach, it wasn't only surprising because of the choice itself. As BDL's Kelly Dwyer explained, D'Antoni is actually a pretty good fit for the Lakers' personnel, at least on offense. Instead, people were surprised because we spent much of the weekend working under the belief that Phil Jackson, who retired from the Lakers in 2011, would be the next man in charge. According to numerous reports, the job belonged to Phil if he wanted it.
When the Lakers opted for D'Antoni, the prevailing report was that Jackson had asked for too much, including a stake in ownership, control over personnel decisions, and leeway on his travel schedule for road games. Given those demands, it appeared that the Lakers had made a sensible choice.
[Related: Lakers resist Phil Jackson's power play]
Jackson, however, paints a different picture of negotiations, one in which the Lakers manipulated the press and reneged on a handshake agreement that they would give Jackson until Monday to decide whether or not to move forward in negotiations. From Mike Bresnahan for the Los Angeles Times:
"Saturday morning, [Lakers executive] Jim Buss called to ask if he could come and visit. I didn't solicit or ask for the opportunity but I welcomed both him and [team executive] Mitch Kupchak into my home to discuss the possibility of my return to the Lakers as head coach," Jackson said.
"We talked for over an hour and a half. No contractual terms were discussed and we concluded with a handshake and an understanding that I would have until Monday [today] to come back to them with my decision. 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. The decision is of course theirs to make. I am gratified by the groundswell of support from the Laker fans who encouraged my return and it is the principal reason why I considered the possibility." [...]
Jackson's agent, Todd Musburger, added that media coverage portraying Jackson as being full of demands was inaccurate.
Musburger also spoke to Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com, making several comments about how Jackson deserves better treatment given all that he's done over the years for the Lakers organization. But this particular media outreach is only part of the story. According to Howard Beck of The New York Times, sources inside and outside of Lakers headquarters claim that Jackson never made specific demands and that he ultimately wanted the job. Elsewhere, Kurt Rambis, a longtime Jackson assistant who would have joined him on the Lakers bench, told Sam Amick of USA Today that money was never discussed. And, two whole days ago, Ric Bucher of CSNBayArea.com reported that the idea that the Lakers' job was Jackson's to take was false, because negotiations hadn't reached that point.
So, in other words, we are effectively in the middle of a prolonged "he said, she said" situation, with Jackson, the Lakers, and various representatives engaging in campaigns to swing opinions to their side.
The truth, then, is probably somewhere in between the entire mess of reports. If the Lakers hoped to make a quick decision on their next coach, it seems unlikely that they would have held a 90-minute meeting with Jackson without discussing any terms that might have ended up in a contract, even if they were only discussed in vague terms. Similarly, while Jackson might not have had exact demands for the job, it's very possible that he had particular requests that would make his job easier.
Plus, it's very unclear what exactly the Monday deadline involved. It likely didn't set a time limit on a specific offer, but if Jackson had expressed his desire to move forward it's possible that he would have been considered the only candidate for the job. As Yahoo!'s own Adrian Wojnarowski reported earlier Monday, Jackson could have been trying to embarrass the Lakers as much as he could have. By hiring D'Antoni, the franchise might have attempted to avoid that outcome as best they could. (For a couple hours, at least.) Then again, if they didn't inform him of the negotiations with D'Antoni until the last possible minute and negotiated when they'd promised an exclusive window, then that's very poor form.
Here's what we do know: The Lakers met with Jackson, they didn't reach an agreement, and the Lakers hired D'Antoni before the two sides had the chance to discuss things in greater detail. Communication was poor, regardless of how far they got into negotiations on Saturday.
It's almost as if Jackson and the Lakers weren't able to get past all the disagreements that played into his retirement two years ago. What a shocker.
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