STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
OK, the NBA season is only two weeks old but already, there's controversy. The Los Angeles Lakers are scheduled to introduce their new head coach, in the next day or so. He's Mike D'Antoni, who resigned last season after a largely unsuccessful four years at the New York Knicks. Many Lakers fans are livid the team did not rehire Phil Jackson, who won 11 NBA titles as a head coach - five of them, with L.A. - and who was ready to come out of retirement, to coach again.
NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman is with us. Tom, good morning.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi.
INSKEEP: Why not rehire Phil Jackson?
GOLDMAN: Well, that's a good question. All we know is what the Lakers have told us publicly. And they say Mike D'Antoni is a great fit - knowing his up tempo style of play, and given the current makeup of the Lakers' roster.
Beyond that, nothing public, which leaves room for tons of speculation - which, of course, there is. Was it because Phil Jackson was demanding too much?
INSKEEP: Well, Phil Jackson has been offering his own view on this.
GOLDMAN: He has, indeed. He released a statement yesterday. And he said he spoke with two Laker executives for more than 90 minutes, on Saturday. That was the day after head coach Mike Brown had been fired. And the discussion with these two Lakers execs ended with a hand shake, and an understanding that Jackson had until Monday - yesterday - to give them his decision on coaching. Jackson said he told the two men he was confident he could come back and do the job. And then he said he was woken up by a phone call from one of the men - general manager Mitch Kupchak - at midnight Sunday. Jackson says Kupchak told him they'd signed D'Antoni to a three-year agreement, and said they felt he was best coach for team.
Now, Jackson said, in the statement, it was the Lakers decision to make. He was diplomatic; his agent wasn't. Agent Todd Musburger said the Monday agreement, pre-empted by the late Sunday night phone call, quote, "was not fair dealing, and Phil deserved fair dealing. It is indicative of the shabby way that organization is being run."
INSKEEP: Well, OK. So I suppose they were talking seriously here, but something went wrong. That's the most we can determine.
GOLDMAN: Something went wrong. And Jackson said - in his statement - nothing contractually was discussed in the face-to-face meeting; meaning, maybe these reports that he was demanding too much, really weren't true.
INSKEEP: Now, you said something else - Tom Goldman - that people who do not follow the NBA every day, may be shocked by. You referred to Coach Mike Brown being fired. We're a handful of games into the season. How did that happen?
GOLDMAN: It happened because the Lakers were struggling. Mike Brown was trying to impose the so-called Princeton offense, which was just too plodding - and taking the Lakers too long to figure out. And these Lakers were built to win now, and not start the season with several losses - which they did. They got all-star center Dwight Howard; they got all-star point guard Steve Nash; to go with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. That is not a team being built for the future; that's a team being built for now. And "now" wasn't happening.
INSKEEP: OK. So if Brown was not the right fit, and the Lakers say Mike D'Antoni is the right fit, why would he be the right fit?
GOLDMAN: He loves speedy basketball and running the fast break; and when the break's not there, moving quickly through a half-court offense. And he was very successful with that style during his years in Phoenix, with all-star guard Steve Nash running the show. From 2004 to 2008, if you watched the NBA, D'Antoni's Suns were the most exciting team - by far.
The knocks against D'Antoni are that he doesn't stress defense enough; he's never been to the NBA finals - unlike Phil Jackson - so his exciting teams only went so far. And despite what the Lakers say, the critics believe D'Antoni is a bad fit. The Lakers are old and slow; and won't be able to run, run, run. And they don't have the premium outside shooters necessary for D'Antoni's system of fast-paced ball movement and taking quick, open shots.
INSKEEP: OK. Well, we'll find out how much difference a coach can make. Tom Goldman, thanks very much.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: He's NPR sports correspondent. This is NPR News.
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