Phil Jackson thought it was his call
Phil Jackson said he told Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and executive vice president Jim Buss that he had "confidence that (he) could do the job" when he met with them about returning to coach the Lakers on Saturday.
Jackson then left the meeting with a hand shake and understanding "that (he) would have until Monday (today) to come back to them with (his) decision."
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Jackson was prepared to return to the Lakers on Monday morning if negotiations between his agent and the team went well, a league source told ESPN late Sunday night.
But before he could do so, Jackson said Kupchak woke him around midnight on Sunday and told him the team had instead signed Mike D'Antoni to a three-year agreement and "they felt (D'Antoni) was the best coach for the team."
"The decision is of course theirs to make," Jackson said in a statement. "I am gratified by the groundswell of support from the Laker Fans who endorsed my return and it is the principal reason why I considered the possibility."
Jackson added that he never discussed contractual terms in his meeting with Kupchak and Buss on Saturday. His agent Todd Musburger later told ESPN that he felt Jackson's reported demands -- including a salary in line with his previous Lakers contracts, more say over personnel decisions and the ability to skip some road games -- had been leaked to the media by the Lakers or D'Antoni's representative.
"There were no demands, outrageous or otherwise," Musburger said. "To say that he wanted control or that he wanted a zillion dollars or that he wanted equity, those were not topics discussed in the meeting between Kupchak, Buss and Phil. If the Lakers didn't spread those things, the fact they didn't take an affirmative stance to correct the record is very troublesome."
Musburger said that while he respected the Lakers right to hire whomever they wanted as coach, he was disappointed in the way the entire situation unfolded.
"Phil is someone who brought nothing but trophies to their bookcase and value to the franchise," Musburger said. "He deserved to be dealt with honestly.
"He didn't deserve the job, that's their decision. They can hire whoever they wish. But don't say to someone you've got until Monday and then roust him from slumber at midnight to say, 'By the way we hired somebody else.' That's just not fair dealing and Phil deserved fair dealing. He's a good faith person and he was dealt with poorly. It is indicative of the shabby way that organization is being run."
ESPN NBA analyst Kurt Rambis, a former Lakers player and assistant coach who worked on Jackson-led staffs from 2001-2004 and 2005-2009 and remains close friends with Jackson, said Jackson told him there had never been any discussions of salary or restrictions on a potential return and that he and the Lakers had agreed to wait until Monday to negotiate.
"It's a process with Phil," Rambis said Monday. "He goes through an entire mental process of envisioning the season and how to get the team to the NBA Finals. It's about winning for him, not just whether he wants to coach."
Instead, the Lakers went with D'Antoni, believing he was a better fit for their current roster, sources told ESPN.
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ESPN NBA Insider Chris Broussard comments on how the Lakers reached the decision to hire Mike D'Antoni over Phil Jackson and more.
Another strike against the triangle was that this Lakers team struggled mightily picking up the similarly complicated Princeton-style offense being instituted by former coach Mike Brown, who was fired Friday.
"After speaking with several excellent and well-respected coaching candidates, Dr. Buss, Jim and I all agreed that Mike was the right person at this time to lead the Lakers forward," Kupchak said in a statement released by the Lakers, announcing D'Antoni's hire.
"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."
They apparently reached that unanimous decision very quickly late Sunday night, as negotiations with D'Antoni did not begin until after the Lakers' win over the Sacramento Kings, sources said.
Before that, fans had been chanting for Jackson's return, and there had been quiet optimism among Laker insiders that it was just a matter of time before Jackson was back on the sideline.
Musburger said he was even scheduled to fly to Los Angeles on Monday to begin negotiating a deal.
In the end, he didn't make the trip as the Lakers instead hired D'Antoni.