D’Antoni told the New York Daily News that he assumed, like most everybody else, that Jackson was a lock to return to the job and replace Mike Brown, who was fired just five games with the team at 1-4.
“Sure I did,” the former Suns and Knicks coach told the newspaper when asked if he thought the job was Jackson’s. “For sure I did. Didn’t everybody? When I got the call that it was me, my first reaction was, ‘Are you serious?’??”
A league source told ESPN.com that D’Antoni received a three-year deal worth $12 million with a club option in the fourth year. D’Antoni’s agent Warren LeGarie confirmed the deal late Sunday night, several hours after the Lakers beat Sacramento 103-90 for their second straight win under interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff.
The Lakers said they plan to hold a news conference most likely on Tuesday or Wednesday. In a statement released by the team, Lakers spokesperson John Black said team owner Jerry Buss, executive vice president Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak were “unanimous that D’Antoni was the best coach for the team at this time.”
Jackson said he told Kupchak and Buss that he had “confidence that (he) could do the job” when he met with them about returning to coach the Lakers on Saturday.
Jackson then left the meeting with a handshake and understanding “that (he) would have until Monday (today) to come back to them with (his) decision.”
Jackson was prepared to return to the Lakers on Monday morning if negotiations between his agent and the team went well, a league source told ESPN late Sunday night. But before he could do so, Jackson said Kupchak woke him around midnight on Sunday and told him the team had instead signed D’Antoni.
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“The decision is of course theirs to make,” Jackson said in a statement. “I am gratified by the groundswell of support from the Laker Fans who endorsed my return and it is the principal reason why I considered the possibility.”
D’Antoni said he was excited to be reunited with point guard Steve Nash, who he coached in Phoenix for five seasons. Nash won back-to-back NBA MVP awards (2004-05, 2005-06) running D’Antoni’s signature up-tempo offense, and they won at least 54 games in each of D’Antoni’s last four seasons.
“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,” he told the newspaper.
D’Antoni coached the Knicks for the past four seasons, resigning last March after a largely unsuccessful tenure featuring just one playoff appearance and no postseason victories.
D’Antoni said he considered himself “lucky or even blessed” to get the opportunity to coach the Lakers.
“I like this team,” D’Antoni told the newspaper. “We’re good, and we’re gonna get better.”