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Archive for Sunday, July 11, 2004

Tomjanovich hopes for chance to coach Bryant

July 11, 2004

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— Rudy Tomjanovich made it clear that Kobe Bryant will be the focal point of the Los Angeles Lakers' offense -- if the All-Star free agent stays with the team.

"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 11:01 p.m. Tuesday.

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 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.

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