Giving it college try, Lakers pursue Krzyzewski as coach

Talks are termed `serious' with longtime Duke leader

July 02, 2004|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

In a move that could send shock waves across the San Andreas fault of college and professional basketball, the Los Angeles Lakers are talking with Duke's Mike Krzyzewski about their vacant coaching position.

Krzyzewski, a Hall of Fame coach who has won three national titles and been to 10 Final Fours in 24 seasons at Duke, spoke privately with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, most recently yesterday in North Carolina. The talks were characterized by Duke athletic director Joe Alleva as "serious discussions," and ESPN reported last night that the Lakers had formally offered Krzyzewski the job.

"Obviously, when you have the best coach in the country, it's not unusual when one of the best franchises in the country comes at him," Alleva said yesterday. "I have no idea how close they are. I hope they're not very close."

A Duke spokesman told the Associated Press that Krzyzewski was in Durham yesterday but was not available for comment and was not expected to make any statement.

Lakers spokesman John Black confirmed the team spoke with Krzyzewski. "They talked about our coaching vacancy," Black said. "Beyond that, we are not going to comment."

Sources told the New York Daily News that the Lakers had put a five-year, $40 million deal on the table for Krzyzewski.

The overtures to Krzyzewski, who guided the Blue Devils to a national semifinal loss to eventual champion Connecticut in April, caught both basketball worlds by surprise. His name had not been floated anywhere as a potential replacement for Phil Jackson. Former Houston Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich had been considered the leading candidate, and had met with Kupchak and Lakers owner Jerry Buss last week.

Krzyzewski, 57, has had his share of problems in the offseason. Freshman Luol Deng left Duke after just one season for the NBA, continuing a recent trend in which top Blue Devils players left school before completing their eligibility. In addition, prized recruit point guard Shaun Livingston skipped Duke entirely to go straight to the NBA from high school. The Blue Devils are expected to have just eight scholarship players this fall.

"The state of college basketball isn't the greatest in the world," Alleva said. "And I'm sure it's frustrating when you recruit a kid and he" goes straight to the pros or leaves after a year.

Reached last night at his home in Missouri City, Texas, senior guard Daniel Ewing said Duke's sports information department had instructed players not to comment on the matter.

Still, a source in the Duke athletic program said Krzyzewski, who has won eight Atlantic Coast Conference tournaments and finished first 10 times in the regular season, is said to be motivated by the defections and looking forward to the challenge.

"He's talked for so many years about how much he loves teaching, and he does," the source said. "There's no teaching involved at that [pro] level. I would be totally shocked if he left."

Krzyzewski, who turned down a 1990 offer from the Boston Celtics for their open coaching slot, will find the road between the NCAA and NBA littered with former college coaches who left the safety of campus only to struggle at the pro level.

While Detroit Pistons coach Larry Brown, who won the 1988 NCAA title at Kansas, has been able to travel between the collegiate and pro ranks successfully, most former college coaches, including Jerry Tarkanian, John Calipari, Lon Kruger and Leonard Hamilton, have failed.

Rick Pitino, who earlier in his career jumped between Providence and the New York Knicks and did well, flopped miserably with the Celtics after taking Kentucky to consecutive championship games. Pitino returned to college coaching at Louisville.

Jackson's departure, after three titles and four NBA Finals appearances in five years, came three days after the Lakers were beaten soundly by the Pistons in the championship round and kicked off two weeks of tumult in the Los Angeles organization.

The Lakers also learned that All-Star center Shaquille O'Neal wants to be traded, and that All-Star guard Kobe Bryant opted out of the final two years of his contract and is a free agent.

The Lakers have vowed to try to re-sign Bryant, who faces sexual assault charges in Colorado, and are entertaining trade offers for O'Neal, who feuded with Bryant during the past few seasons.

Sun staff writer Ryan Baker contributed to this article.

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