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Tuesday, July 6, 2004
Updated: July 7, 7:15 PM ET
Tomjanovich in talks to decide coaching staff

ESPN.com news services

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- With Mike Krzyzewski out of the picture, it appears Rudy Tomjanovich could be the next coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.

ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher reports that the deal to hire Tomjanovich is basically finished, with negotiations now centering on who will be on Rudy T's coaching staff.

Earlier Tuesday, a source told ESPN.com the Lakers had entered into "serious negotiations" with Tomjanovich.

The Riverside (Calif.) Press-Enterprise and KRIV-TV in Houston both reported Tuesday that the former Houston Rockets coach had been offered the Lakers' position Monday night, but those reports could not be immediately confirmed by ESPN.

The Lakers declined comment Tuesday afternoon, but general manager Mitch Kupchak did say the team has "identified the guy we want to hire."

"There is not a deal to announce," Kupchak said Tuesday. "We don't have a coach at this time. We hope to have a coach in a short period of time. If [Tomjanovich] becomes coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, he would be a wonderful selection."

The Lakers have been searching for a new coach since June 18, when coach Phil Jackson stepped down three days after an NBA Finals loss to Detroit.

Despite the Lakers' late push for Krzyzewski, Tomjanovich had otherwise been considered the front-runner to succeed Jackson. However, the Lakers had little choice but to try to strike a deal with Coach K after Kobe Bryant announced that the Blue Devils coach was the one he would prefer to play for were the Lakers' star to re-sign.

"I would think [Bryant's] response would be the same as everybody -- there was a sense of disappointment," Kupchak said. "We felt if we could have brought [Krzysewski] on board, it would have been a wonderful coup for this organization."

Kupchak also said he was in constant contact with Bryant, an unrestricted free agent, and Bryant's representatives, and there was nothing new to report on Shaquille O'Neal, who has demanded a trade.

"I'm optimistic, I have to be," Kupchak said regarding his hope of re-signing Bryant.

Asked how Bryant might feel about Tomjanovich, Kupchak replied: "I wouldn't share any of our players' thoughts publicly."

Regarding O'Neal, Kupchak said: "It is time to be patient. We are being patient."

"Immediately after I spoke to [Krzyzewski] this morning, our search for a new coach continued," Kupchak said late Monday.

Tomjanovich had met in recent weeks with team owner Jerry Buss and Kupchak about the Lakers' post, and has expressed a desire to have Shaq and Kobe on his team were he to join the Lakers. It is believed, however, he would accept the coaching post no matter who is on the roster.

Tomjanovich, 55, stepped down after 12 years as coach of the Rockets in May 2003 -- two months after learning he had bladder cancer.

He negotiated a settlement of the remaining two years and $12 million on his coaching contract with the Rockets.

Reportedly in good health now, Tomjanovich worked as a scout with the Rockets last season, his 34th year with the organization he joined in 1970 as the second overall selection in the NBA draft.

Tomjanovich was the winningest coach in Rockets history with a 503-397 record, but they failed to make the playoffs in his last four years there.

He led the Rockets to NBA titles in 1994 and 1995.

Krzyzewski, who has won three national titles at Duke, declined the Lakers' job on Monday after taking the weekend to mull a lucrative offer, reported by ESPN's Stephen A. Smith to be a five-year, $40 million deal.

Coach K said he was tempted by the Lakers' prominence as one of professional sports' most famous franchises, but never got to the point of being ready to leave.

"The decision has always been to stay at Duke. It would have to be something changing [that]," he said at a news conference on campus Monday.

Kupchak identified four men he has spoken with about the job -- Tomjanovich, Krzyzewski, Miami Heat president Pat Riley and North Carolina coach Roy Williams.

Krzyzewski, Riley and Williams have said they aren't interested. That leaves Tomjanovich.

"Do the math," Kupchak said.

Tomjanovich would be the fourth coach in NBA history to coach one team to multiple championships before being hired by another, joining Bill Russell, Riley and Jackson.

Jesse Brown, Tomjanovich's business manager, refused comment from his Houston office.

Kupchak also said others have called to express interest in the job, but wouldn't identify them.

Kupchak said he called Williams two weeks ago. He also said Williams was offered the Lakers' coaching job six or seven years ago -- before Jackson was hired.

"He's been at the top of our list," Kupchak said. "He said he had no interest."

On Tuesday, Williams said he "had a general discussion with the Lakers a couple of weeks ago. I told them that I was quite happy at Carolina and was not interested in the job."

Riley issued a statement saying he wasn't offered the job and intended to stay in Miami.

Jackson coached the Lakers to three championships in five years. The announcement that he wouldn't return came three days after the team lost to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals.

Kupchak also said he met with Karl Malone, who last month opted out of his $1.65 million deal for next season to become an unrestricted free agent.

Injured during the Finals, Malone underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee last week.

"He looked great, wide-eyed, upbeat," Kupchak said. "I think he would consider playing again."

Dwight Manley, Malone's agent, refuted reports that Malone planned to retire, saying an announcement wouldn't come until later in the summer. Malone, the NBA's second-leading career scorer, turns 41 later this month. He joined the Lakers last summer in search of his first championship after playing 18 seasons with the Utah Jazz.

Information from ESPN.com's Marc Stein and The Associated Press was used in this report.