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Contract expected to be signed Saturday

7/12/2004 - Los Angeles Lakers

LOS ANGELES -- The Lakers finally have a coach. The next
step in a summer of change is determining their roster.

Rudy Tomjanovich agreed to coach the Lakers -- a longtime
adversary in more ways than one -- following a 34-year relationship
with the Rockets.

"We expect that he'll sign a contract and we'll hold a press
conference tomorrow to announce it," Lakers spokesman John Black
said Friday.

Tomjanovich succeeds Phil Jackson, who coached the Lakers to
three championships in five years. The team announced June 18,
three days after losing to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals,
that Jackson wouldn't return next season.

Tomjanovich survived one of the scariest moments in NBA history
on Dec. 9, 1977, at The Forum in nearby Inglewood when Lakers
forward Kermit Washington blindsided him with a devastating punch
that sent him crashing to the floor with several shattered facial
bones.

Doctors said the injuries were life-threatening, but Tomjanovich
returned the following season wearing a protective mask and made
one of his five appearances in the NBA All-Star game.

Tomjanovich later filed a civil suit against the Lakers. He was
awarded $3.25 million by a jury, but the $2 million settlement was
reached before an appeal was heard.

The 55-year-old Tomjanovich coached the Rockets for 12 years
before stepping down in May 2003 -- two months after being diagnosed
with bladder cancer. He negotiated a settlement of the remaining
two years and $12 million left on his coaching contract.

In good health now, he worked as a scout with Houston last
season -- his 34th year with the organization he joined in 1970 in
San Diego as the second overall selection in the NBA draft.

Tomjanovich guided the Rockets to championships in 1994 and 1995
and was the winningest coach in their history with a 503-397
record.

But they failed to make the playoffs in his last four years
there.

He joins an unsettled team -- Kobe Bryant is an unrestricted free
agent and Shaquille O'Neal has demanded a trade. Derek Fisher and
Karl Malone also are unrestricted free agents.

Tomjanovich, one of the first candidates interviewed, had to
wait as the Lakers discussed the job with Miami Heat president Pat
Riley, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina coach Roy
Williams.

Riley, a winner of 1,110 games in 21 seasons -- the first nine
with the Lakers -- said he spoke with Lakers officials but wasn't
offered the position.

An offer was made last week to Krzyzewski, who announced Monday
he was staying at Duke. Williams told the Lakers last month he
wasn't interested in the job.

It's believed Tomjanovich agreed to terms of a five-year
contract worth about $30 million -- a deal similar to the one
Jackson signed in June 1999.

Black wouldn't comment on contract terms.

The Lakers have reportedly stepped up efforts to trade O'Neal,
who has insisted he won't play for them again. A possible
destination could be Miami.

Quoting sources, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reported
Thursday the Lakers were considering a deal that would include
Lamar Odom, Brian Grant and a first-round Miami draft pick. Caron Butler also has been mentioned. Black refused to comment.

Late Friday, ESPN's Jim Gray reported that it is up to the Heat to agree to a deal involving Odom, Grant and Butler in exchange for O'Neal.

Bryant has met with representatives of the Lakers, Clippers,
Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks this week and reportedly could
make a decision as soon as this weekend. Free agents can sign
contracts beginning July 14.

Calls to the representatives for Bryant and O'Neal weren't
returned.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.