(Reuters) - The controversial decision by the Los Angeles Lakers to appoint Mike D‘Antoni as new head coach over 11-time NBA championship winner and fan favorite Phil Jackson ultimately hinged on playing style, the team said on Tuesday.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told reporters that no agreement was reached with Jackson about his possible return to the franchise where he won five NBA titles and that D‘Antoni’s offense-minded approach was viewed as the best way forward.
D‘Antoni was signed on a three-year deal for $12 million on Monday, less than 48 hours after the Lakers management had met with Hall of Fame coach Jackson at his Playa del Rey home.
”We never offered a job, and he never indicated he would coach the team,“ Kupchak said of the meeting with Jackson. ”It was a basketball discussion revolving around a lot of questions.
”Phil said he needed more time. I asked him how much more time, and he said he’d get back to (us) on Monday.
“I said, ‘Phil, I have a job to do and I‘m going to have to continue my search and interview candidates.’ He nodded that he understood. So we did what I indicated we would do.”
Immediately after leaving Jackson’s home, Kupchak said he began discussions with former Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks coach D‘Antoni.
The following day, Kupchak, Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss and executive vice president Jim Buss reviewed D‘Antoni’s credentials. After several further phone calls with the coach, they offered him the job.
“It revolved almost completely around the personnel that we have on the team and the style of play we saw going forward for the team,” Kupchak explained.
”Of course we took into consideration a structured offense, which is what we went through with (former coach) Mike Brown.
“Without going into great detail, some of our guys I don’t think would be successful in the triangle and some of our new players might take a long time to learn the triangle,” Kupchak added, referring to Jackson’s ‘share-the-ball’ triangle offense.
Kupchak defended his decision to phone Jackson shortly after midnight on Sunday to inform him that D‘Antoni had been appointed as the 24th Lakers head coach.
”Our feeling was there was no agreement to wait for (Jackson‘s) response on Monday,“ he said. ”He told us that’s when he would get back to us.
”I could see where he might interpret that as ‘You guys would wait for me,’ but I thought when I said I had to interview other candidates it was clear that we had a job to do.
“The only other thing I could do was wait until Monday morning and that would have been worse.”
D‘Antoni takes over a Lakers team which is well accustomed to success and bristling with All-Stars but limped to a dismal 1-4 start this season before Brown was abruptly fired on Friday.
The team have since won their last two games under interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff, who remained in charge for Tuesday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs.
“I don’t think it’s a surprise that he (D‘Antoni) looks at our team and likes our team,” Kupchak said of a Lakers starting five, when fully fit, of All-Stars Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace.
“He has it figured out exactly how he wants to play. We discussed his defensive philosophy, going behind the picks, showing on picks. What Mike’s going to run better suits the team.”
Known for his fast-paced offense-oriented system, D‘Antoni had a 388-339 record as head coach of the Denver Nuggets, the Suns and the Knicks. Critics have argued he is weak on defense but Kupchak disagreed.
“Mike D‘Antoni never had Dwight Howard, Metta and another seven-footer (Pau Gasol) in back of (Howard) either,” Kupchak said.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Greg Stutchbury