“They asked me not to talk,” D’Antoni told Jack McCallum of SI.com Monday morning, “so I’m not going to.”
He and the Lakers finalized a contract that shocked the sports world and “stunned” Phil Jackson at around 3 a.m. EST, McCallum reported. D’Antoni is recovering from knee-replacement surgery and has not yet been cleared to travel with the team. Things ended badly for D’Antoni at his last stop, the New York Knicks, and he walked away from the job last March.
“I’m a coach. I know what this business is like,” D’Antoni told the New York Daily News’ Mike Lupica. “All I can tell you is that [stuff] happens.”
The hiring reunites D’Antoni with Steve Nash, who was a two-time MVP in Phoenix with D’Antoni as coach.
“I am so happy to be back with Steve Nash,” D’Antoni said. “To get one more chance to have him run the thing the way he did for me before [in Phoenix], well, that’s the kind of thing you never think is going to happen. But now it has.”
The 800-pound gorilla in the room remains Jackson, who seemed destined for a third round as the Lakers’ coach. Even D’Antoni, whose name was in the mix the moment the team fired Mike Brown last week, though the Zen Master was a lock.
“Sure, I did,” D’Antoni told Lupica with a laugh. “For sure, I did. Didn’t everybody? When I got the call that it was me, my first reaction was, ‘Are you serious?’ ”
The Lakers were because, Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports, they were calling Jackson’s bluff.
Jackson wanted to humiliate Lakers vice president Jim Buss far more than he wanted to coach the team. He wanted significant allowances on travel, coaching duties and an ability to veto player personnel moves that didn’t fit his vision. With an unprecedented 11 coaching championships, Jackson had every right to make unprecedented demands. He doesn’t have the right to be surprised when the Lakers rejected them and hired a pliable, cheaper coach in Mike D’Antoni.
“Phil wanted Jim Buss to walk away with his tail between his legs,” one source with knowledge of the discussions told Yahoo! Sports. “He thought he had time to still negotiate with them, and see how much they would give him.”
Now, the Lakers are going out of their way to spare Jackson the embarrassment of his overreaching, but this is pointless spin. They’re working with him to sell the public that he hadn’t asked for too much, that somehow the franchise chose D’Antoni over Jackson on sheer merit. It’s noble, but laughable. Jackson heard those chants in Staples Center and never believed the Lakers had the guts to call his bluff before circling back to him on Monday.
“Phil’s assistants convinced him that they had his back on the concerns [Jackson] had about his load as head coach, and he was ready to get a deal done on Monday,” a source with knowledge of the talks said. “But this was about Jim Buss giving him a royal you-know-what in the end.”