"He has already done legendary things on the court," Tomjanovich said of Bryant at his first news conference as Lakers coach Saturday. "I truly believe he has a chance to become the greatest player ever to play the game."
Bryant has reportedly narrowed his choices to the Lakers or Clippers. Free agents can sign with teams starting at 12:01 a.m. ET Wednesday.
Tomjanovich said a recent telephone conversation with Rob Pelinka, Bryant's agent, went very well. He sent Bryant a video of much of what he's done offensively over the years with players of Bryant's position and ability.
"The players that I have, I'll try to fit them in a system that suits them and develops chemistry," Tomjanovich said.
Tomjanovich was hired Friday to replace Phil Jackson, whose triangle offense often irked Bryant.
"This is the beginning of another chapter in Lakers history," said Jeanie Buss, the Lakers executive vice president of business operations -- and Jackson's girlfriend.
Buss is also the daughter of Lakers owner Jerry Buss.
"He [Tomjanovich] is a proven winner who has led his teams to two NBA championships and I am confident he will carry that success over to the Lakers," the elder Buss, vacationing in Italy, said in a statement issued by the team.
It took three weeks for the Lakers to hire Tomjanovich, the former Houston Rockets' star player and coach.
Tomjanovich might have been the fourth choice -- behind Miami Heat executive Pat Riley, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina coach Roy Williams.
He didn't seem to mind.
"Not one bit. It's OK with me -- it's part of the formula, it's what makes me go," Tomjanovich said. "I just felt grateful when it was all over. It seemed like months. I know it wasn't months."
The Lakers won championships in Jackson's first three years as coach to raise the franchise total to 14. But they failed to accomplish the feat the last two, so they changed coaches.
Bryant likely had input in that decision, but his future remains in question.
"I have no feel what Kobe's going to do," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said.
Kupchak said he spoke with Bryant about Tomjanovich.
"Kobe's very well aware of Rudy Tomjanovich's resume, what he brings, what he accomplished in Houston," Kupchak said, adding he spoke with several other players as well.
"We've done that, and obviously we're comfortable enough to move forward," he said.
Tomjanovich signed a five-year contract worth about $30 million -- similar to the contract Jackson signed five years ago.
Tomjanovich coached the Rockets for 12 years before stepping down in May 2003 -- two months after being diagnosed with bladder cancer. He referred to that time as "one of the darkest periods of my life."
"I was so down in the dumps -- a lot of fear, a lot of sadness," the 55-year-old recalled. "I beat cancer -- I'm so grateful to be here. I am humbled to be here. I'm going to make a vow -- that I will bust my butt for you guys. You're going to get my best shot.
"I'm ready to go to work. Who's got the ball?"
Tomjanovich said he had his most recent biopsy last fall and the two checkups since that time "were just perfect."
Tomjanovich worked as a scout and consultant for the Rockets last season -- his 34th year with the organization he joined in 1970 as the second overall selection in the NBA draft. He was the winningest coach in franchise history with a 503-397 record, but his team failed to make the playoffs in his last four years there.
Tomjanovich said he spoke with O'Neal, but wouldn't elaborate.
"I don't know how it's going to play out. I really don't," Kupchak said. "When there's something to report, we'll report it."
O'Neal's agent, Perry Rogers, told Florida newspapers Saturday that O'Neal has given his blessing to a deal that would send him to Miami.
The deal, expected to include Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and Brian Grant going to Los Angeles, cannot be completed until Wednesday when a two-week leaguewide moratorium on trades and free agent signings expires.
Tomjanovich said Frank Hamblen, a holdover from Jackson's staff and longtime friend, will be a part of his coaching staff along with Larry Smith and Mike Wells.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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