Kupchak Addresses Coaching Decision
Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss, VP Jim Buss and GM Mitch Kupchak collectively came to the decision to hire Mike D'Antoni on Sunday night at about 5 p.m.
On Tuesday morning, Kupchak met with selected reporters to address the coaching hire, discussing why D'Antoni got the job and explaining the process the team went through with former coach Phil Jackson.
In short, the Lakers felt that D'Antoni's style of play is what will most benefit the personnel on the roster.
Below is a summary of Kupchak's comments:
Q: On what took place with Phil Jackson:
Kupchak: Much has been made of the perceived agreement to wait until Monday. The actual way it took place after a basketball discussion was, 'Where are we now?,' and Phil said he needed more time. I asked him how much more time, and he said he'd get back to (us) on Monday. I said, 'Phil, I have a job to do and I'm going to have to continue my search and interview candidates.' He nodded that he understood. Maybe herein lies a little bit of the misunderstanding. As it was reported, we never offered a job, and he never indicated he would coach the team. It was a basketball discussion revolving around a lot of questions. So we did what I indicated we would do, which is when I left Phil's house, I began discussions with Mike D'Antoni on Saturday afternoon, and we also set up an interview with another candidate for Sunday. All day Sunday, Jim and I and Dr. Buss (from another location) continued to discuss what the (best move) would be. After multiple phone calls with Mike D'Antoni on Sunday afternoon, at 5 or 6 o'clock on Sunday, we made the decision that Mike D'Antoni was going to be the next coach of the Lakers. It revolved almost completely around the personnel that we have on the team and the style of play we saw going forward for the team. Of course we took into consideration a structured offense, which is what we went through with Mike Brown. We looked at our personnel – without going into great detail, some of our guys I don't think would be successful in the triangle, (and) some of our new players might take a long time to learn the triangle. So we decided Mike would (be the coach).
Q: On calling Phil Jackson at midnight to relay the decision:
Kupchak: Our feeling was, the worst thing we can do – since we already made our decision – was to wait until Monday. I could (have) gotten a call from Phil on Monday morning saying he thought about it, and he would like to be the coach and let's start negotiations. To say at the point that we'd decided to go in a different direction, our feeling was that would be even worse than what we did on Sunday night. Our feeling was there was no agreement to wait for (Jackson's) response on Monday. He told us that’s when he would get back to us. I could see where he might interpret that as 'You guys would wait for me,' but I thought when I said I had to interview other candidates it was clear that we had a job to do. I could have waited until Monday morning to call Phil – I didn't look forward to calling somebody at midnight to tell him he's not going to get a job he might or might not accept, but the only other thing I could do was wait until Monday morning and that would have been worse, because (the news had gotten out).
Editor's Note: From Lakers spokesman John Black: It took from 6 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. until a contract with D'Antoni was negotiated and completed, being faxed back and forth and so on from D'Antoni's house outside of New York City. The reason Kupchak didn't call Jackson until around midnight was that the deal with D'Antoni was not completed until that time. It was an attempted courtesy, though Jackson clearly thought that he would have a chance to discuss it again on Monday. Kupchak acknowledged that if Jackson had made it clear he wanted the job on Saturday, the process may have gone differently.
Q: On Phil's reaction:
Kupchak: I believe I woke him up. He's always a little cryptic on the phone, but I did wake him up, and in those kinds of situations, there is not a lot of small talk. We did talk about the team a little bit, and Mike D'Antoni and how he runs the team. (Jackson) was very complimentary of Mike under the circumstances. I just told (Jackson), almost verbatim, what our release was. We just felt that the present make up of the team and the kind of basketball we wanted to play going forward, we just thought that Mike D'Antoni was the choice.
Q: On what was discussed in the meeting with Jackson:
Kupchak: There was no discussion of salary in the meeting. I don't know why there would be. The job wasn't offered, and he didn't say he wanted the job. We touched briefly on personnel input, which he would hope that he'd have more input. And we talked about the rigors of travel in the NBA. But there was no demands or in depth discussion about missing games. Missing games because of travel was not discussed.
Q: On the conversations he had with D'Antoni that convinced him to make the decision:
Kupchak: I've been around so long that there aren't too many veteran coaches that I don't know and know well, and I've known Mike for quite some time. We played against them in all those series in Phoenix. I know what he does. I know what his perceived deficiencies are. But on Saturday, I had several conversations by myself (with Mike) and then on Sunday there were several with Jim and I that lasted an hour or two in total, asking those types of questions. Obviously (I was convinced). I don't think it's a surprise that he looks at our team and likes our team. In his mind, he has it figured out exactly how he wants to play. We discussed his defensive philosophy, going behind the picks, showing on picks, it's going to be a little bit different from what Mike Brown does. Which direction he pushes the defender or the offensive player - it's going to be a little bit different from what Mike Brown does.
He plays the way we see this team playing and our personnel executing. We didn't feel with Mike Brown and the Princeton offense that we were getting the most out of the players we brought in this summer. We looked for a coach that could get the most out of the players we brought in this summer, and on top of that the existing players. So clearly it was a huge factor.
Q: On there being belief on Saturday that Phil Jackson would be the coach:
Kupchak: When we decided to make the change and we talked about a couple of possibilities, Phil was not lumped in as one of the possibilities that we thought would be a reality. He had retired on his own a year and a half ago, and he told me two months ago that he never wanted to coach again. He was done coaching, but he wanted to stay involved in basketball in one (aspect). That wasn't a surprise to me. And when we made the change, we discussed in advance, although we don't think he wants to be a part of it and we're not looking to go in that direction, there's going to be a firestorm of support. And of course, on Friday, that started. By Friday night, I was talking with ownership about (Phil being) something we had to consider. The decision was made Saturday morning to meet with Phil, to see his take on it, what his condition was, his mental and physical approach, and that's what we did. I'd say up until that point, it remained percentage-wise more of a possibility that we'd ask him if he said yes to coach, although it never got there. The groundswell of support ... there was a lot of pressure to seriously consider bringing Phil back or asking him to consider to come back.
I asked Kupchak how much of the decision had to do with Dwight Howard not just for this season, but given that he can be a free agent after the season. His answer: "Significant. We look at Dwight as a cornerstone for this franchise going forward. Right now, it's Kobe Bryant, and right there are Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, but the cornerstone for this franchise based on talent and age is Dwight Howard going forward. Certainly, a big part of getting the most out of Dwight was important in the search."- Had Phil Jackson expressed definitive interest to take the job during the Saturday meeting, Kupchak said he and Jim Buss would have "immediately" huddled with Dr. Buss, and "decided what we were going to do." When that didn't happen, Kupchak called two other candidates, starting with Mike D'Antoni, and became more and more convinced as they spoke to D'Antoni further. Kupchak said that ultimately, they had to "come to grips with" saying no to Phil Jackson, which was not easy, especially since there was such a groundswell of support for the Hall of Famer, even extending to chants during games.
- Kupchak acknowledged that of course D'Antoni saw all the reports that it was Phil's job to lose. But that wasn't actually the case, so Kupchak tried to explain to D'Antoni – without giving anything away – that what was reportedly likely to happen wasn't necessarily going to happen.
- Kupchak said the team's chances to win a title this season are better with D'Antoni as the coach than they were with Mike Brown as the coach. Obviously, that belief is why they made the change. "What Mike (D'Antoni's) going to run better suits the team."
- Kupchak said the defensive numbers for D'Antoni's past teams don't support the idea that he couldn't or didn't coach defense, when adjusted for pace of play. Also: "Mike D'Antoni never had Dwight Howard, Metta (World Peace) and another 7-footer (Pau Gasol) in back of (Howard) either." Kupchak went on to explain that Dr. Buss has always preferred an up-tempo, free offense. The triangle wasn't his favorite system as it wasn't up and down, but since the team was winning it was all good. They also had the personnel to support the triangle offense when Jackson installed it, both times.
- Kupchak was asked if Phil gave him a vision of how he'd be able to take the personnel and win with it: "We talked about it … I know the triangle. Obviously I wasn't convinced … We just didn't feel the players we had on this team, the players we brought in would fit the triangle offense as well as what Mike D'Antoni would do. We made huge commitments to players this summer either via free agency or trade, and we just didn't feel the fit was as good as what Mike D'Antoni runs."
Kupchak added that there will be "a lot more opportunities for every player" in D'Antoni's system. You won't see 16 to 19 seconds on the shot clock before getting a shot. There will be more shot attempts, if more turnovers, but Kupchak thinks it's easier to get a guy to run down on offense than it is on D. And guys are more willing to run back on D after the score, generally.
- Can L.A.'s players run with the collective age of the team? Yes, Kupchak said, but he clarified that they aren't asking the players to run sprints from end line to end line. "We do have young speed and savvy players that can play up tempo. We're not talking about run and gun, we're talking about up tempo, and putting the ball in the hands of a guy to do what he does best. (Steve Nash) isn't going to win sprints, but he knows how to control tempo, and our pace of play will be faster and less deliberate.