LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - With most of their fans demanding the return of Phil Jackson, the Los Angeles Lakers sprang a surprise on Monday by naming former Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks coach Mike D‘Antoni to replace Mike Brown.
Hall of Fame coach Jackson, the 11-time NBA championship winner, had been widely expected to come out of retirement to lead the Lakers for a third time but the Lakers instead opted for the offense-minded D‘Antoni.
According to the Los Angeles Times, talks with the heavily favoured Jackson broke down after the veteran coach made significant demands, including a stake in team ownership.
Jackson, 67, compiled a 1,155-485 record in 20 NBA seasons, winning six NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan followed by five more in two separate stints with the Lakers.
D‘Antoni, 61, has signed a three-year deal for $12 million, with the Lakers holding an option for a fourth year, local media reported.
“Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss, executive vice president Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak were unanimous that D‘Antoni was the best coach for the team at this time,” Lakers spokesman John Black said in a statement.
D‘Antoni is expected to be formally introduced as the 24th Lakers head coach this week, most likely on Tuesday or Wednesday, Black added.
“Knowing his style of play and given the current make-up of our roster, we feel Mike is a great fit, are excited to have him as our next head coach and hope he will help our team reach its full potential,” Kupchak said.
While the possibility of Jackson’s return as coach had thrilled Lakers players and fans, D‘Antoni is held in high esteem by All-Stars Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.
“Obviously I think everyone knows how much I love Mike,” said Nash, who played four seasons under D‘Antoni in Phoenix. “If he were the coach, it would be seamless and terrific for me, and I think the team as well.”
Bryant, a 14-time All-Star, was a huge fan as a child of D‘Antoni’s basketball play in Italy, where he grew up, and later got to know him well when D‘Antoni was an assistant coach on the U.S. national team.
Spanish forward Pau Gasol, another Lakers All-Star, tweeted on Monday: “We already have a new head coach! I‘m sure that Mike D‘Antoni will help us be the team that we all want to be! #GoLakers!”
D‘Antoni, who is known for his fast-paced offense-oriented system, had a 388-339 record as head coach of the Denver Nuggets, the Suns and the Knicks.
He 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.
At that point, the 16-time NBA champion Lakers had the worst record in the Western Conference following an off-season in which the team acquired All-Star center Dwight Howard and point guard Nash, a two-time league Most Valuable Player.
Last season, the Lakers won the Pacific Division with a 41-25 record and reached the conference semi-finals before falling to eventual conference champions Oklahoma City Thunder in five games.
However, early this season they were hobbled by injuries and struggled under the much vaunted new Princeton offense installed by Brown.
Howard has been easing his way into form after back surgery that ended his 2011-12 season, Nash has missed the last five games due to a leg injury and Bryant has been slowed by a foot injury.
Ironically, the Lakers have since won their last two games under interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff, who is expected to remain in charge for Tuesday’s home game against the San Antonio Spurs.
The Lakers are next in action on Friday at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles where they will host the Suns in what is likely to be D‘Antoni’s first game in charge.
Additional reporting by Gene Cherry in Salvo, North Carolina; Editing by Julian Linden