Tomjanovich, Lakers brass meet

Originally Published: June 22, 2004 news services

LOS ANGELES -- The Lakers hope to hire a new coach within a couple of weeks, with general manager Mitch Kupchak saying he plans to interview more than one candidate and fewer than 10.

Rudy Tomjanovich

Former Houston Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich has reportedly started talks with the Lakers, 10 years to the day after he led the Rockets to the first major sports championship in Houston.

Tomjanovich, met with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and owner Jerry Buss for about two hours on Tuesday in Los Angeles.

"We are in the process of trying to narrow down the coaching candidates and select a coach for this team," Kupchak said. "I would hope this would happen sooner than later.

"I can't say that could happen in a day or two. That probably means a couple weeks. We don't want this to linger into July or August."

The 55-year-old Tomjanovich is the first coach interviewed to succeed Phil Jackson as Lakers coach and is the apparent front-runner.

Buss was scheduled to leave on a monthlong European vacation on Wednesday, making Tomjanovich likely the only candidate that would meet with the owner.

Kupchak said he believes the Lakers will be in position to win next season, although Kobe Bryant is an unrestricted free agent who may or may not be back and Shaquille O'Neal has requested a trade.

"I don't think we want to take the chance that we're going to experiment with an unproven coach," Kupchak said. "I'm not ruling out the possibility that our coach could be an assistant coach on our team or another team."

Lakers assistant coaches Kurt Rambis and Jim Cleamons will also be considered for the job, although Cleamons, like former NBA coach George Karl, who is also on the Lakers' short list, is a candidate to replace Jim O'Brien as Ohio State's head coach.

Tomjanovich, 55, coached the Rockets to championships in 1994 and 1995. He left as coach following the 2002-2003 season after 33 years with the organization for health reasons.

After fighting bladder cancer, Tomjanovich is reportedly in good health.

Tomjanovich's business manager, Jesse Brown, wouldn't comment Monday.

The Lakers announced Friday that Phil Jackson would not return next season. On that same day, Bryant opted out of his contract and O'Neal publicly demanded a trade.

According to an Orange County Register report, Kupchak said he had an hour-long discussion with Jackson on Sunday. When the two crossed paths Monday, Kupchak's reported greeting was "Hey, Coach."

"I wondered to myself, 'Did I say the wrong thing?' " the newspaper quoted Kupchak as saying. But the GM indicated that Jackson is at peace with his departure.

"I could easily see six months, a year, next week, going out to dinner with him and maintaining a strong relationship with him," Kupchak told the Register.

Kupchak, meanwhile, also said he hoped to have conversations soon with O'Neal's representatives.

"I'm eager to hear what they have to say, and we'll take it from there."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.