L.A. eyes Phil Jackson, Mike D'Antoni
LOS ANGELES -- Phil Jackson and Mike D'Antoni are the leading candidates to replace Mike Brown as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, a source with knowledge of the situation told ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne on Friday.
"It's neck and neck," the source said. The Lakers intend to call Jackson on Saturday to gauge his interest in returning to the sideline, sources told ESPNLosAngeles.com late Friday.
If the initial conversation with Jackson goes well, the Lakers are hoping to meet with him this weekend. While the Lakers have focused on Jackson, it would have to be a "philosophical match," according to sources. Issues such as how much control over personnel decisions Jackson will want and whether he would travel to all games -- issues that became problematic during Jackson's last stint with the team -- will surely be raised.
The Lakers also have made initial contact with D'Antoni's agent, sources said. D'Antoni already is stumping for the job.
"If they offer it, I'd love it. It'd be a perfect fit," D'Antoni told Fox Sports Southwest and DallasBasketball.com in the hours after Brown's firing.
The Lakers would like to move quickly through this process, as interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff has committed to working only a few games.
More on the Brown firing
After two failed coaching hires, the pressure's on Lakers VP Jim Buss to make the right choice, J.A. Adande writes. Story
A team built to contend is in turmoil, and a roster full of superstars needs a coach. Who are the Lakers going to call? It'd better be Phil Jackson, Arash Markazi writes. Story
Mike Brown is dedicated and detail oriented. But that doesn't necessarily make you the right man for the job, Dave McMenamin writes. Blog
What's next for the Lakers? Good move or bad? Five ESPN.com NBA writers weigh in.
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• Dime: Jackson, D'Antoni only options
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• Grantland: Why Brown was fired
• TrueHoop: Offense wasn't the issue
The Lakers have fired coach Mike Brown. Was this the right move for a struggling Los Angeles team? Vote!
• Twitter reaction, plus your votes
• Quiz: Laker coaches since 1980
Despite reports that D'Antoni had knee replacement surgery and will be sidelined up to six weeks, sources tell ESPN.com's Marc Stein that if hired by the Lakers, he is expected to be available to coach within 10 days to two weeks.
"It's not going to be a long process; that's for damn sure," a source told ESPNLosAngeles.com. "But they're going to do their due diligence."
Jackson is open to returning to the NBA sideline, multiple sources with knowledge of the Hall of Fame coach's thinking told ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin.
"I can't imagine this not working out," a source close to Jackson told ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard. "Phil's health is fine now. That's no issue at all now. He's feisty. He gets feisty when he's ready to coach. He likes this Lakers team."
Jackson has also been in touch with potential assistant coaches in the past two days, the source said.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told reporters Friday afternoon that the team's brain trust -- Kupchak along with Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss and executive vice president of player personnel Jim Buss -- already has put together a list of potential replacements for Bickerstaff. Among the "four or five" names on that short list is Jackson, according to a league source.
"I have no control over anything," Bickerstaff said. "Whatever Mitch asks me to do, that's what I'll do."
The all-time winningest head coach in NBA championship history with 11 titles to his name, Jackson has not coached since the 2010-11 season when he walked away from the game after the Lakers were swept out of the second round of the playoffs.
In his final news conference, Jackson noted that he didn't have much of a relationship with Jim Buss.
"People took that the wrong way," a source told Shelburne. "There's no ill will between Jim and Phil."
Jackson took last season off to avoid the frustration associated with a lockout-shortened season and to improve his health. Jackson, 67, is "getting better and better," according to a source familiar with the rehabilitation process for Jackson, who underwent knee replacement surgery in March.
"He's been in tune with the Lakers' season and has kept an eye on the league," a source close to Jackson told ESPNLosAngeles.com.
Jackson's presence never has fully left the Lakers. He still frequently stops by the team's practice facility to visit his longtime girlfriend, Jeanie Buss. Kobe Bryant often quotes Jackson maxims during news conferences. Even Jackson's two elevated chairs -- one he used at home practices and one the team took on the road for away games -- are still propped up against a wall by the entrance to the training room at the practice facility.
Should Jackson return to the Lakers, league sources feel he would be interested in bringing along an assistant coach or associate head coach whom he could groom to be his successor. Jackson feels like he owes much of his success to his longtime consultant Tex Winter, the architect of the Triangle offense, and he would like to pay it forward to another young coach. When Jackson spoke to Portland and Orlando about their head-coaching vacancies this past offseason, a mentor arrangement was discussed in both situations, according to a source familiar with the negotiations.
Although Jackson values the process of going through a full training camp when taking over a team, a source close to the coach said that could be mitigated with this current Lakers' group because Jackson would be joining it with preexisting familiarity with the roster, namely Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace, whom he coached to a championship in 2010.
Jackson is in Los Angeles and was seen sporting a mustache, the same look he went with when the Lakers first hired him in 1999, at a recent dinner.