EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Rudy Tomjanovich resigned midway through his first season as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, citing health reasons.
L.A. general manager Mitch Kupchak met with Tomjanovich at his home Monday after the coach missed Sunday's game because he did not feel well. Their conversation led Kupchak to believe Tomjanovich would resign, and he made it official Wednesday.
"I think this is the best decision for me and the Lakers," a
subdued Tomjanovich said at a news conference. "A month ago, I
became conscious of not feeling good. As the time went by, I
started to feel my resistance going down. I went from this
energetic, pumped-up guy to all of a sudden being sapped of a lot
"I hadn't been on antibiotics for a couple of years, or at
least a year, and already here, because of my resistance being low,
I was on it consistently, you know, with infections. And it just
seemed like I just got deeper and deeper into not feeling good.
"Why this happened now and why my body couldn't take it, I do not have the answer."
Kupchak said assistant coach Frank Hamblen will coach the team and did not give a timetable for a replacement. Attention in Los Angeles immediately turned to Phil Jackson, who led the Lakers to three NBA titles.
The GM said he has not spoken to the former coach for months, but acknowledged Jackson's name would come up when he talked to owner Jerry Buss.
The two have already talked to Kobe Bryant. Kupchak declined to answer questions about specifics of his talks with Bryant, but said the star player would be consulted in the same way previous Lakers stars such as Magic Johnson had been consulted.
Bryant, Tomjanovich said, was not a cause of his resignation, nor was there any conflict with other players or the organization.
"My time with [Kobe] has been great," Tomjanovich said. "Everybody sees the great plays on the floor, but I'm going to remember those private moments."
Tomjanovich addressed the team in an emotional meeting shortly
before speaking to the media, and said the get-together with his
players got quite emotional.
"I don't cry a lot. I did in that situation," he said.
"He just basically came in and poured his heart out to us,"
Bryant said. "We just wish him the best. He's extremely
passionate, emotional. But he's a fighter. To see him down like
that, it really hurt and shocked us all."
Naturally, Bryant was asked about Jackson, who wrote a tell-all
book released before the season that portrayed Bryant as aloof and
difficult to coach.
"Rudy's situation is a very serious situation. I can't go from
that to talk about successors," Bryant said. "It really doesn't
matter to me. I'm just the guy in the middle. ... I've said that
time and time again, I love Phil as a coach. If that's the
decision, I'll roll with it."
Tomjanovich said he'll never coach again.
"That's clear in my mind -- absolutely not," he said.
He said he felt disappointed, but not ashamed.
"I couldn't shut it off when I was away from the arena,"
Tomjanovich said. "Why this happened now and why my body couldn't
take it now, I do not have the answer. I've been through a heck of
a lot more."
Like the life-threatening punch he took from Kermit Washington
as a player in 1977; his battle with alcoholism, and dealing with
bladder cancer less than two years ago.
Tomjanovich survived all that, but decided coaching at this time
was too much for him.
"I know I did become consumed and maybe -- I can't remember
exactly how I was before -- but I'd go for a walk and think that was
an outlet," he said. "But all I thought about was basketball
while I was walking."
Proudly, he said his sobriety hasn't been threatened by what
he's been going through.
"There are no outside influences, be it pressure from above,
anything to do with my players or being here in Los Angeles,"
Tomjanovich said. "This is all about me and how I'm wired. Nobody
put pressure on me but me."
The 56-year-old coach went 24-19 in his first season as Jackson's successor and with a revamped lineup built around Bryant. Hamblen led the Lakers to their past two wins, which Tomjanovich missed with a stomach virus and a sinus infection.
Tomjanovich said that he began wearing down mentally and physically about a month ago.
After victories, Tomjanovich said he would celebrate with a
dinner of steak and fries, but the grinding feeling in his stomach
always returned by the time he finished his meal.
"It just kept wearing on me and wearing on me and my resistance got low. It hurt my health," he said, clearly subdued. "Maybe I'm an old general that needs to get his butt off the front line and do something else."
Tomjanovich was hired July 10 and signed a five-year, $30 million contract after the Lakers did not renew Jackson's contract.
Jackson led the Lakers to three consecutive NBA championships as well as a berth in the finals in June, when they were upset by Detroit.
After leaving the Lakers, Jackson wrote a tell-all book "The Last Season: A Team in Search of Its Soul" in which he called Bryant "aloof."
"I do know that there were many occasions this year when I felt like there was a psychological war going on between us," Jackson wrote. "Amazingly, we came to a truce, even to a higher level of trust. Ultimately, though, I don't believe we developed enough trust between us to win a championship."
Bryant shrugged off those comments in October, saying he respected Jackson as a coach.
Tomjanovich, who led the Houston Rockets to NBA titles in 1994 and 1995, had returned to coaching after recovering from bladder cancer.
He will stay on with the team for two years as a consultant, a role he said will be defined as he goes, although it will include scouting.
As for Hamblen, he seems ready to handle whatever comes his way. His only other experience as a head coach came in 1991-92 when he went 23-42 with Milwaukee when Del Harris was sidelined by stomach problems.
"Apparently, Mitch said it could be a day, a month, a year," Hamblen said. "There's nothing like the security of the NBA.
"Phil has his lot in life, I have mine. Sure, you'd always like to be an NBA head coach. If I owned a team or was in charge, I'd want Phil Jackson also. He's got nine rings. My ego's not that big.
If it ended tomorrow, I'd say these 36 years have been a great ride. It really hasn't sunk in yet about me being the coach of the Lakers."
His first game in that capacity comes Thursday night, when the Lakers try to extend their winning streak to a season-high three games against the San Antonio Spurs, whose 37-10 record is the best
in the NBA.
The Lakers then begin a five-game road trip Sunday at Houston.
Bryant said he hopes to play sometime during the trip.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.