By Ben Golliver
Phil Jackson hasn't said much after the Lakers passed over him, opting to hire Mike D'Antoni to replace the fired Mike Brown as coach in a surprise decision early Monday. His agent and a key lieutenant, however, are saying plenty.
Todd Musberger, Jackson's agent, and Kurt Rambis, a former Jackson assistant, both blasted Lakers management for their treatment of Jackson during the hiring process on Monday, the same day D'Antoni was officially announced as coach. The source of their complaints: the Lakers and Jackson met on Saturday, with Jackson believing he had until at least Monday to mull over the next steps. Instead, 24 hours later, the Lakers called in the middle of the night to inform him that D'Antoni would be receiving the job.
Musberger stood up for his client in statements made to ESPNLA.com, saying that the Lakers did not treat Jackson fairly or honestly and that their conduct was "shabby."
"Don't say you've got until Monday, then roust him at midnight to say, We hired somebody else.' That's just not fair dealing and Phil deserved fair dealing... He's a good faith person and he was dealt with poorly. It is indicative of the shabby way that organization is being run... Phil brought nothing but trophies to their bookcase and value to the franchise. He deserved to be dealt with honestly."
Musberger also defended his client against reports that he sought authority in basketball operations decisions and favorable travel arrangements.
"There were no demands, outrageous or otherwise... To say that he wanted control or that he wanted a zillion dollars or that he wanted equity, those were not topics discussed... If the Lakers didn't spread those things, the fact they didn't take affirmative stance to correct the record is very troublesome."
Rambis co-signed the denial of Jackson's reported demands, in comments made to USA Today.
"They had told Phil that it was his job (in a Saturday interview), that he was their first choice, and they agreed to wait until Monday -- today -- to allow him time to digest whether or not he felt he was, in fact, the right coach to come and coach this team," Rambis told USA TODAY Sports. "And, in fact, his agent (Todd Musburger) flew into town -- he's here from Chicago -- to start negotiations. So Phil had made his mind up that he wanted to coach this team. Somewhere between Saturday afternoon, when Phil and I had a conversation, and Sunday night, the Laker organization made a complete 180-degree turn."
The former Timberwolves coach, who was a Lakers assistant from 2002 to 2009, also took a swipe at Lakers executive Jim Buss, son of owner Jerry Buss, who reportedly hired Brown in the first place.
"If you're talking about having success and having this team and someone who knows how to guide a team to an NBA title, Phil is that guy," he said. "There's no second, third, fourth or fifth choice at this point in time. He's that guy. I don't know if Jim Buss knows one system from another in terms of how it fits with players, or what works best for players, or what's the difference between them. I don't know if he really understands that, so a lot of times decisions are made on gut feelings and with outside sources that have an influence on it."
Jackson issued a brief statement on Monday, touching on these points, but in gentler fashion. He said that that he did not "solicit or ask for" the job, that he hadn't discussed contract details with the Lakers and that he was woken up in the middle of the night by the team informing him of their decision to hire D'Antoni.
Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak issued a short, prepared remark to announce the hire on Monday. “After speaking with several excellent and well-respected coaching candidates, Dr. Buss, Jim and I all agreed that Mike was the right person at this time to lead the Lakers forward,” the statement read. “Knowing his style of play and given the current make-up of our roster, we feel Mike is a great fit, are excited to have him as our next head coach and hope he will help our team reach its full potential.”