Los Angeles: 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 offence-minded D’Antoni.
According to local media, D’Antoni, 61, has signed a three-year deal for $12 million (Dh44.06 million), with the Lakers holding an option for a fourth year.
Jackson, heavily favoured to get the job, met with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and executive vice-president Jim Buss on Saturday. Though contractual terms were not discussed, he said, he told them he would make a final decision on Monday.
Before that could happen, though, Kupchak phoned Jackson at midnight on Sunday to inform him that D’Antoni had been appointed instead.
“He told me that the Lakers had signed Mike D’Antoni to a three-year agreement and that they felt he was the best coach for the team,” Jackson said in a statement. “The decision is of course theirs to make.
“I am gratified by the groundswell of support from the Laker fans who encouraged my return and it is the principal reason why I considered the possibility.”
Jackson, 67, compiled a 1,155-485 record in 20 NBA seasons, winning six NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls followed by five more in two separate stints with the Lakers.
D’Antoni, who is known for his fast-paced offence-oriented system, had a 388-339 record as head coach of the Denver Nuggets, the Suns and the Knicks.
“After speaking with several excellent and well-respected coaching candidates, [Lakers owner] Dr [Jerry] 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.
“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.”
D’Antoni is expected to be formally introduced as the 24th Lakers head coach later this week, though he has not yet been cleared to fly after having knee replacement surgery earlier this month.