LOS ANGELES (AP) - Rudy Tomjanovich and the Los Angeles Lakers have had an adversarial relationship since 1970. He played against the Lakers; was
punched and almost killed by one of them; sued them, and coached against them.
After all that, the parties have joined forces.
Tomjanovich, who guided the Houston Rockets to NBA championships in 1994 and 1995, has agreed to coach the Lakers a move expected since Monday.
"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 titles 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. 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.
Reportedly in good health now, he worked as a scout with the Rockets last season his 34th year with the organization he joined in 1970 as the second
overall selection in the NBA draft. Tomjanovich was the winningest coach in Rockets 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 are also 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.
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 later 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 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's name has also been mentioned. Black refused to comment.
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.
"Rudy has a great reputation as a coach, his record speaks for itself,"
said Fisher's agent, Mark Bartelstein. "Derek is going to talk with
Rudy and we'll see where it goes from there."
Malone's agent, Dwight Manley, said his client believes Tomjanovich "is a great coach."
However, Tomjanovich's presence might not be enough convince Malone to return to the Lakers if the NBA's second-leading career scorer decides to play
"He's not deciding what he's doing yet, if he's playing or where he's playing,"
Manley said. "First, he'll decide if he will, then he'll
decide where he will. That probably won't happen for a little while."
Malone said following the NBA Finals he would only return if he was 100 percent healthy and only with the Lakers. He had minor knee surgery last month
and came through in good shape.
"He did always talk about coming back to the Lakers exclusively what was unsaid but implied was the Lakers were going to be the same team he signed
with last summer,"
With Jackson gone and the futures of Bryant, O'Neal and Fisher uncertain, that obviously won't be the case.
[Edited on 10/7/04 by TRD]