by Sam Amick, USA TODAY Sports
Published: 11/12/2012 06:14pm
LOS ANGELES - Kurt Rambis was on the outside looking in on Monday afternoon, the former Laker standing in his suit at the edge of the practice facility parking lot and doing his day job as commentator for his old team's television network.
As late as Sunday night, Rambis thought he would be in a different situation, one in which the longtime Lakers assistant would be on the inside again - making the news instead of covering it.
All signs over the weekend had pointed to Phil Jackson coming out of retirement to coach the Lakers for a third time, and Rambis had been talking with his old friend for days about joining him as an assistant. Instead, the Lakers made the decision late Sunday night to hire Mike D'Antoni to replace the fired Mike Brown, and Rambis - along with the rest of the Laker Nation - was stunned.
"They had told Phil that it was his job (in a Saturday interview), that he was their first choice, and they agreed to wait until Monday - today - to allow him time to digest whether or not he felt he was, in fact, the right coach to come and coach this team," Rambis told USA TODAY Sports. "And, in fact, his agent (Todd Musburger) flew into town - he's here from Chicago - to start negotiations. So Phil had made his mind up that he wanted to coach this team. Somewhere between Saturday afternoon, when Phil and I had a conversation, and Sunday night, the Laker organization made a complete 180-degree turn."
Rambis' view is that someone convinced Lakers management that D'Antoni's run-and-gun, pick-and-roll heavy system was a better fit for the roster of star-studded talent than Jackson's triangle that had won 11 NBA titles -- five of those with L.A. There were no answers to be had at the Lakers facility, as general manager Mitch Kupchak nor Vice President Jim Buss were made available to the media.
As for reports that Jackson had simply asked for too much in the the negotiations - be it travel privileges because of his health, complete control of the team's roster or even partial ownership of the team - Rambis emphatically denied that was the case.
"No money was discussed," said Rambis, the former Minnesota Timberwolves head coach who was expected to rejoin Jim Cleamons on Jackson's staff. "All of these things that are out there about partial ownership, and lack of travel, and no practice time - all of that stuff is categorically false. None of those conversations ever happened. Ever. It was about whether or not he wanted to come and coach the team."
Rambis, who was filing live reports from the facility for Time Warner on Monday, disagrees with the notion that Jackson would not have been the best fit for this group of future Hall of Famers.
"If you're talking about having success and having this team and someone who knows how to guide a team to an NBA title, Phil is that guy," he said. "There's no second, third, fourth or fifth choice at this point in time. He's that guy. I don't know if Jim Buss knows one system from another in terms of how it fits with players, or what works best for players, or what's the difference between them. I don't know if he really understands that, so a lot of times decisions are made on gut feelings and with outside sources that have an influence on it."
And as Rambis noted, anything short of a championship - or at least an NBA Finals appearance - might have a ripple effect on the future of free-agent-to-be Dwight Howard this summer.
"The other thing that this organization has to keep in mind, is that if things don't work out really well here, and Dwight Howard's not happy, he's a free agent," Rambis said. "He could leave, and that would be disastrous for the imminent future of this team. I think you can see that there's a lot of pressure on this organization to win, and ultimately that's what you have to do. And Phil has been the coach in recent history who's had the most success here."