Team says resignation just one of several options

Updated: February 2, 2005, 2:48 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Rudy Tomjanovich will step down as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, sources told ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher on Tuesday.

Tomjanovich
Tomjanovich

A team spokesman confirmed that Tomjanovich, 56, is considering resigning because of health reasons -- though not a recurrence of bladder cancer -- but denied that a final decision had been made.

"He's considering several options, and resigning is one of them. That decision has not been made," Lakers spokesman spokesman John Black said Tuesday. "There won't be an announcement [Tuesday]. He won't coach tonight [at home against Portland] because he's not feeling well. This has nothing to do with cancer."

Action Jackson
Lakers owner Jerry Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak met with Kobe Bryant for a half hour during the game Tuesday to discuss the possible return of Phil Jackson, sources told the Los Angeles Times.

Bryant said that he would agree to Jackson's return, the paper reported.

Jackson, who is in Australia on vacation, told the paper in an e-mail that he was thinking about the possibility.

Kupchak said Wednesday that he hadn't talked to Jackson and that the Lakers have had no "business contact" with Jackson, but acknowledged that he and Buss likely would discuss the former coach.

Sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein that Tomjanovich will make a formal announcement Wednesday, and the Lakers have scheduled a news conference for 3 p.m. ET. The team said that Tomjanovich would discuss his plans but did not give details.

The Lakers, under assistant coach Frank Hamblen and without the injured Kobe Bryant, defeated the Trail Blazers 92-79 on Tuesday night.

Tomjanovich's health and his dissatisfaction with the way the Lakers are playing -- at 24-19 they are seventh in the Western Conference, and Bryant remains out due to an ankle injury -- contributed to the decision, sources told Bucher.

Tomjanovich, who won a pair of NBA championships with the Houston Rockets, missed Los Angeles' win over Charlotte on Sunday night because of a stomach virus and did not attend practice Monday. He returned to the coaching ranks this season after recovering from bladder cancer.

Hamblen, the only holdover from former coach Phil Jackson's staff, is 2-0 as interim head coach.

The 57-year-old longtime NBA assistant said he spoke with Tomjanovich on Monday night.

"He was OK. We did have a few laughs," Hamblen said, refusing to elaborate.

Hamblen said the only person he has spoken with about the situation is his wife.

"We're just praying that Rudy gets back," Hamblen said. "I haven't talked to Dr. Buss at all, in case something does happen. I'm just trying to do my job."

Hamblen was referring to Lakers owner Jerry Buss.

Black said Tomjanovich has had a sinus infection as well as the stomach virus.

"It's health-related," Black said about Tomjanovich's absence. "He loves the team, and the team loves him."

Black said he had no idea when Tomjanovich will be back on the bench -- if indeed he stays on the job.

Tomjanovich signed a five-year, $30 million contract last summer.

"He has discussed this with the appropriate people in the organization," Black said. "When he does make a decision, it will be announced at the appropriate time."

Several Lakers players including Bryant seemed stunned by the news.

Bryant said he found out something was up when Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak called him.

"Everybody in here is still shocked and numb," Bryant said. "I called him at the house as soon as I got here and left him a message. I just hope he's doing all right. We're all just as surprised as anybody else. Hopefully, he'll come back and continue coaching us. If he doesn't, we'll have to just kind of go from there. But our main concern is him as a person.

"The other day at practice when we saw him, he looked kind of disheveled a little bit and everybody was concerned. I went up and talked to him and called him the next day to see how he was doing. I also called him today to see how he was doing."

Bryant sprained his right ankle Jan. 13 and hasn't played since. The Lakers improved to 5-4 without Bryant after Tuesday's victory.

Tierre Brown said the team had heard at Tuesday's shootaround that Tomjanovich was "doing better, wouldn't coach the game tonight, but he'd be back tomorrow."

Tomjanovich succeeded Jackson when the Lakers did not renew the latter's contract; he was hired July 10. Jackson led the Lakers to three consecutive NBA championships as well as a berth in the finals last June, when they were upset by Detroit.

After cutting ties with Jackson and trading Shaquille O'Neal during the offseason, the Lakers have been a mediocre at best this season.

The Lakers traded O'Neal to Miami and kept Bryant after the season, re-signing the guard to a 7-year, $136.4 million contract.

Speaking before the Heat played at Dallas on Tuesday night, O'Neal wished Tomjanovich well.

"Me and Rudy have a great relationship," O'Neal said. "He should take care of himself. I hope it's not health-related because he's a great guy."

When asked what a possible coaching change would mean for the Lakers, O'Neal replied: "I don't know. I'm not concerned with the organization."

O'Neal was traded less than a week after Tomjanovich was hired. Because of their friendship, O'Neal called Tomjanovich before he got the Lakers job and told him he wasn't coming back, no matter what.

"You respect a coach that's done well with other big men, one of the greatest big men in my eyes, so I always had a lot of respect for him," O'Neal said. "I know he's a big man's type of coach."

O'Neal referred to former Houston Rockets star Hakeem Olajuwon, who led the Rockets to a four-game sweep over O'Neal and the Orlando Magic in the 1995 NBA Finals.

Tomjanovich guided Houston to NBA titles in 1994 and 1995. He spent his entire playing career in the Rockets' organization.

During his tenure with the Rockets, Tomjanovich posted a 51-39 playoff record and also coached Team USA in international events from 1998-2000.

At the 1998 World Championships, the United States won a bronze medal after being forced to used non-NBA players due to labor strife. Tomjanovich skipped the 1999 Tournament of the Americas due to health issues but returned to guide Team USA to a gold medal at the 2000 Olympics.

Tomjanovich, an All-Star forward for the Rockets, survived one of the scariest moments in NBA history on Dec. 9, 1977, at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., when Lakers forward Kermit Washington shattered his face with a devastating punch. Tomjanovich filed a civil suit against the Lakers and reached a $2 million settlement.

Tomjanovich, who left as coach of the Rockets after the 2002-03 season because of health reasons, looked forward to taking the reins with the Lakers before the the current season began.

"It's just excitement, nothing but excitement," Tomjanovich said last fall about his return. "It's a positive. I've been like a young schoolboy since this has happened. At times I haven't gotten to sleep, but it's not anxiety. It's excitement."

Hamblen has been a coach on five championship teams, three with the Lakers and two under Jackson with the Chicago Bulls.

Information from The Associated Press and SportsTicker was used in this report.

ALSO SEE