Sun, Jul 11, 2004 - Page 22 News List

Los Angeles Lakers sign up coach with a lengthy last name

AP , 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 US$3.25 million by a jury, but the US$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 US$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 US$30 million -- a deal similar to the one Jackson signed in June 1999.

Black wouldn't comment on contract terms.

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