Coach K, it's time to break away for the NBA

July 04, 2004|By MIKE PRESTON

DUKE COACH Mike Krzyzewski should go to the Los Angeles Lakers. There is nothing left for him to accomplish in college basketball. He has won three national championships, eight Atlantic Coast Conference tournament and 10 regular-season titles.

His legacy is secured. If you took a national poll of college basketball fans on who was the best coach, UCLA's John Wooden would finish No. 1, and Krzyzewski might finish No. 2 or 3, at least in the top five. No one will ever replace Wooden.

So with that said, it's time for Krzyzewski to move on. The money is right (reportedly $40 million over five years), and so is the timing. He's 57, and all three of his daughters are married. The Blue Devils are expected to be average this season, so Krzyzewski won't have to take time off from a back injury like he did the last time Duke was so ordinary.

Just joking.

But more importantly, Krzyzewski can only enhance his legacy because so many of his brethren have recently failed in trying to make the jump from college to the pros. The NBA has swallowed up college coaches such as Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Randy Ayers, Tim Floyd, Kevin O'Neill, Lon Kruger and Leonard Hamilton.

"Sometimes, change is good," said Orlando Magic guard Steve Francis, who played against a Krzyzewski-coached team when he was an All-American at Maryland.

"Maybe he feels he pretty much conquered the college level, which I think he did, and coaching in the NBA will be a great opportunity for him. It's going to be hard. In the last 10 years, the college coaches who came into the league left and went back to the college game after one or two years. I think a guy like that [Krzyzewski] is a hard-nose guy, and he'll get respect from his players."

If Krzyzewski takes the job, it won't be all about money. He has a great quality of life. In Durham, N.C, he is The King, and Duke is his palace. The words Duke and Krzyzewski are synonymous.

It won't be about ego. That's already out of control. But guys like Krzyzewski, Bill Parcells and Gary Williams thrive on competition. Krzyzewski apparently has an itch to discover if what he has taught in college can work in the NBA.

Deep down inside, all basketball fans other than those arrogant ones at Duke also want to know. It will give us a reason to watch the NBA regular season, which lacks high-intensity, big-effort games.

Plus, old Coach K can finally let his tightly cropped hair down. Get out of those navy blue Brooks Brother suit coats. He can hang out in Hollywood instead of Mayberry. He can form a new set of groupies on the West Coast who live outside his office.

The transition would be interesting.

"In the college game, you'll have one or two guys coming into your office telling you they want the ball," Francis said. "In the NBA, every player walks into the coach's office and tells him I want the ball at this position [and] at this time in the game."

Here are more adjustments: College coaches are used to being mother, father, brother and teammate, too. In the pros, players just want structure and a paycheck. Coaches, though, have to be psychologists to deal with the egos.

In the NBA, some of the players Krzyzewski would coach will be less cultured than the ones at Duke. On this level, many players make more money than their coaches. The Lakers are a circus, a team of malcontents. Center Shaquille O'Neal despises general manager Mitch Kupchak. O'Neal thinks guard Kobe Bryant is a ball hog. Kobe didn't like former coach Phil Jackson and got him fired. Kobe doesn't like Shaq. Kobe doesn't like anybody but himself, and apparently Krzyzewski.

What a mess.

Rudy Tomjanovich is actually a better fit for this team than Krzyzewski. The Lakers need the mild-mannered, easygoing type who can bring people together, possibly even Bryant and O'Neal.

But Bryant, the selfish, pompous one, apparently wants Krzyzewski. Bryant now runs the team; owner Jerry Buss just pays the bills.

But, that's the Lakers. It's Showtime, and no coach can make a bigger splash now than Krzyzewski. And if any college coach can succeed, it's him. Krzyzewski has a great understanding of the game, knows about the importance of team chemistry, and understands the psychology of players.

It's fun watching Duke fans squirm. They haven't panicked like this since 1990, when the Boston Celtics courted Krzyzewski. Portland and Miami also made brief runs at him in 1994.

Some have said Krzyzewski has become disenchanted with the ACC because it has put a new emphasis on football with this year's addition of Virginia Tech and Miami. They say he is unhappy with the college game because Blue Devils such as Elton Brand, Jay Williams, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng departed early for the NBA.

Others say those departures might make Krzyzewski stay at Duke because it has become a challenge trying to keep the Blue Devils on top. But there are no more challenges at Duke. Krzyzewski is 621-181 in 24 years at the school.

Despite underclassmen leaving, he is going to sign his share of blue-chippers. He's Mike Krzyzewski. He makes a great impression when he walks into a recruit's living room.

But in the NBA, he'll be a rookie. With the Lakers, he has to pacify Bryant and try to reconcile team differences with O'Neal, who still has two years remaining on his contract. Krzyzewski will be on the road more, teaching less and coaching more. He will have to replace another coaching legend in Jackson, who won three rings in Los Angeles in five seasons.

Those are great challenges, ones that would enhance Krzyzewski's legacy even more.

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