NBA grass may not be any greener

Originally Published: July 1, 2004
By Marc Stein |

The K factor
Shaquille O'Neal
Mike Krzyzewski has a military (school) background and a sparkling resume, which means he should have plenty to impress Shaquille O'Neal. Except that O'Neal still doesn't want to play for him.

It's not because Shaq has anything against Coach K. Shaq simply sees his possible hiring as yet another slight, another concession the Lakers have made to Kobe Bryant without Shaq's consultation.

With the belief spreading that Krzyzewski is Bryant's hand-picked choice to replace Phil Jackson, Shaq may be even more determined to force a trade, insulted by the appearance of another player on his team being allowed to make all the decisions.

Problem is, a Shaq trade is even tougher now than it was when the week began, after the Mavericks lost free-agent point guard Steve Nash to Phoenix without compensation. Dallas and Sacramento are widely considered the only feasible destinations for O'Neal, but the Mavs, without Nash, suddenly don't have a spare star to build a trade package around.

The Lakers are insisting on receiving Dirk Nowitzki in any deal that sends Shaq to Dallas. The Mavericks insist they won't trade Nowitzki and were hoping to involve Nash in a sign-and-trade deal with Golden State that would route Warriors free-agent center Erick Dampier to L.A. as Shaq's replacement. That seems impossible now without Nash, and even if the Mavericks were suddenly willing to part with Nowitzki, O'Neal would probably hesistate to commit to a Dallas team without Nowitzki or Nash.

If obstacles keeping cropping up at their current rate, convincing the Lakers to move Shaq could prove as challenging as the Lakers' quest to lure Coach K away from his Duke empire.

-- Marc Stein
Mike Krzyzewski couldn't get Kobe Bryant to Duke for a semester in 1996. He couldn't even get Shaun Livingston to Duke in 2004.

So the prospect of seven years' worth of Kobe in L.A. must sound pretty good about now.

Of course, that would force Coach K to walk away from his Duke empire, where he's essentially bulletproof, so it's hardly a slam dunk that even the most prestigious hot seat in the NBA will manage to lure him away.

There is probably only one job in basketball that could get Krzyzewski to so much as consider making his own leap to the NBA. It also helps the Lakers that there is a massive challenge attached to their offer -- following nine-ringed Phil Jackson onto that hot seat with Bryant apparently hand-picking Coach K to replace the Zenmeister. As a package, all that must intrigue the 57-year-old, who basically has nothing left to accomplish at the NCAA level.

Just the same, all that still might not be enough to do it.

Yet you can't fault the Lakers for trying, just as you can't question Krzyzewski's desire to listen. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has been wanting to broaden the search, and the pool of available coaches at the pro level with the stature to take charge of a team that still could feature Bryant and the trade-seeking Shaquille O'Neal starts and ends with Rudy Tomjanovich. Trying to lure Coach K to the NBA, as Boston and Portland tried in the 1990s, seems so obvious now that it's actually public knowledge.

On the Coach K side, meanwhile, how do you ignore the Lakers if they call? If they call, you at least hear them out. You're obligated.

Will he actually take the job? Vitale, Bilas and Katz know a lot more about the man than I do, but what we all know is that he's the quintessential college coach who has never been especially fond of the NBA way ... and who won't be overwhelmed by NBA coaching money because of what he earns as college hoops' modern-day Wooden.

What I heard Thursday is that, according to well-placed sources in the college game, he didn't sound at all envious (or accepting) of Mike Montgomery's recent decision to leave Stanford for the Golden State Warriors. Which makes it more than odd that Krzyzewski would now agree to make the same jump and take on a task that often tormented Jackson, who had decades of experience dealing with NBA power struggles as a player and a coach.

What I know for sure is that frustration with the evolution of the college game better not be the deciding factor if Krzyzewski decides to liven up this already-crazy summer by accepting Kupchak's offer.

Maddening as it might be to deal with the strictures of the NCAA rule book, and losing players to the NBA draft before they even start classes, daily life with the Laker circus can lead to regular doses of frustration Coach K can scarcely imagine.

Especially if Shaq comes back and Coach K, after ruling his universe for so long, finds himself serving as the Lakers' new Shaq vs. Kobe referee.

Losing Livingston and Luol Deng to the draft could be a pleasant experience by comparison.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer,
• Senior NBA writer for
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics