The Los Angeles Lakers have contacted Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has directed one of college basketball's most successful programs during the past quarter-century, about replacing the recently departed Phil Jackson, Lakers officials and Duke's athletic director said yesterday.
"Coach [Krzyzewski] has informed us that the Los Angeles Lakers have contacted him and entered into serious discussions to fill their vacant head coaching position," Blue Devils Athletic Director Joe Alleva said at a news conference in Durham, N.C.
Lakers public relations director John Black said General Manager Mitch Kupchak has had discussions with Krzyzewski about the team's coaching vacancy. "However, in keeping with team policy the organization will not comment on the discussions or answer questions related to it," Black said in a statement released by the team.
Krzyzewski, 57, who did not attend the news conference held by Alleva, was not available for comment. Alleva said he could not offer any details on the discussions between the Lakers and Krzyzewski.
Jackson stepped down as Lakers head coach two weeks ago after Los Angeles was upset by the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals. Whoever takes over for Jackson will inherit a club that has won three of the past five NBA championships but has seen internal rivalries between guard Kobe Bryant and center Shaquille O'Neal tear the team apart. In the wake of the Lakers' loss to Detroit, O'Neal has demanded a trade and Bryant, a free agent as of yesterday, is considering offers from other teams. Bryant also faces sexual assault charges in Eagle, Colo., and is scheduled to go on trial Aug. 27.
The Lakers reportedly had narrowed their search to former Houston Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich and Jackson's former assistants in Los Angeles, Jim Cleamons and Kurt Rambis. Miami Heat President Pat Riley also met with the Lakers but denied later that he was being considered for the job.
NBA teams in the past have contacted Krzyzewski, who has led the Blue Devils to three NCAA championships in his 24 seasons at Duke. "You know Mike has had a bunch of opportunities to come into the NBA," said Rod Thorn, president and general manager of the New Jersey Nets. "He's always told people he wasn't interested. Maybe this time he is."
Krzyzewski signed what amounted to a lifetime contract with Duke three years ago. But last year he was an outspoken critic of the expansion of the Atlantic Coast Conference, saying it lessens the ACC's basketball profile for debatable financial gain in football. Miami and Virginia Tech will join the league this fall, with Boston College to follow in 2005.
During the early 1990s, the Boston Celtics interviewed Krzyzewski and offered him a five-year, $2.5 million contract. Krzyzewski turned down the offer while peers such as John Calipari and Rick Pitino made the jump.
"I think he could do a good job," said former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian, who briefly coached the San Antonio Spurs in the early 1990s. "I just don't think he'll go. He's got the best job in all of basketball. . . . He'll have a stronger influence in college than pros because you practice more in college. That's where you do your coaching -- practice."
But the Lakers could make Krzyzewski a lucrative offer. Los Angeles signed Jackson to a five-year, $30 million deal in June 1999. Mike Montgomery, who left Stanford after 18 years, signed a contract with the Golden State Warriors in May that is reportedly worth $10 million over four years.
Krzyzewski's base salary at Duke for the year that ended June 2003 was $800,000, and his total compensation was $875,048, the Associated Press reported in April. That marked a 33 percent decrease from the previous year in which he earned a total of $1.3 million. Most big time college coaches have numerous incentive clauses built into their contracts.
Alleva said Duke is unlikely to let Krzyzewski go without making a bid to keep him.
Krzyzewski dined recently with Alleva and Duke President Richard Brodhead. The two school administrators met with him "to express at the highest level our desire for him to finish his coaching career at Duke" Alleva said.
Krzyzewski has amassed a 621-179 record in 24 seasons at Duke, leading the Blue Devils to championships in 1991, 1992 and 2001. Under Krzyzewski, Duke has made 10 Final Four appearances and won eight ACC tournament championships and 10 ACC regular season titles.
Staff writer Mike Wise and researcher Julie Tate contributed to his report.