By Ben Golliver
The Los Angeles Lakers want Phil Jackson and seem to need Phil Jackson, but they are reportedly eyeing a number of experienced coaches as back-up possibilities in case the Zenmaster opts to stay in retirement rather than replace the fired Mike Brown.
The Los Angeles Times reports Sunday that the Lakers see former New York Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni, former Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan, and former Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy as possible contingencies in the event that Jackson doesn't pursue a third tour with the Lakers.
The Times reports that the Lakers and Dunleavy will meet on Sunday. ESPNLA.com reports that the Lakers interviewed D'Antoni by phone on Saturday. It's unclear whether McMillan has been contacted yet by the Lakers.
On Saturday, multiple reports indicated that the Lakers and Jackson held strong mutual interest after meeting.
Lakers assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff is serving as interim coach until a permanent head coach is named. Bickerstaff coached the Lakers to a 101-77 win over the Golden State Warriors on Friday. During the second half of that game, Lakers fans chanted "We want Phil." The Lakers will host the Sacramento Kings at the Staples Center on Sunday.
D'Antoni, 61, is known for his high-octane approach on offense, dubbed "Seven Seconds or Less" during his time with the Phoenix Suns. He holds a career record of 388-339 (.534) in 10 seasons with the Nuggets, Suns and Knicks, and he guided the Suns to the Western Conference finals in 2005 and 2006. An assistant coach for USA Basketball, D'Antoni most recently coached the Knicks, resigning abruptly amid rumors that he didn't see eye-to-eye with star forward Carmelo Anthony. D'Antoni coached Lakers guard Steve Nash for four seasons in Phoenix and has a long-standing relationship with Lakers star Kobe Bryant. Until Brown was fired, D'Antoni had kept a relatively quiet profile since his resignation in March.
McMillan, 48, was fired by the Blazers in March after a promising season fell apart, with reports of locker room turmoil and unhappiness with his rotations. In 12 seasons with the Seattle SuperSonics and Blazers, McMillan holds a career record of 478-452 (.514) and has advanced out of the first-round of the Western Conference playoffs just once, in 2004-05 with the Sonics. Known for designing his offensive system around his best players, he favored a slow-down, half-court approach in Portland, allowing guard Brandon Roy and forward LaMarcus Aldridge plenty of isolation opportunities. McMillan coached Lakers guard Steve Blake in Portland and, like D'Antoni, is an assistant coach with USA Basketball. He was linked in rumors to a few coaching positions over the summer but is currently taking the season off.
Dunleavy, 58, holds a 613-716 (.461) coaching record in 17 seasons with the Lakers, Bucks, Blazers and Clippers. He left the Clippers, where he served as both coach and general manager, in strange fashion: in February 2010, he stepped down as coach, only to be axed as GM a month later. In June 2011, an arbitrator awarded him $13 million in a dispute with Clippers owner Donald Sterling over the termination. Dunleavy hasn't worked in the NBA since. The father of Bucks forward Mike Dunleavy, Jr., he got his coaching start with the Lakers in 1990-91, when he led them to the NBA Finals. He also took the Blazers to the Western Conference finals in 1999 and 2000. He was named Coach of the Year in 1999. Together, these three candidates possess zero championship rings as coaches. Jackson, of course, has won 11 titles as a coach, the most in NBA history.