Phil Jackson was prepared to return to the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday morning if negotiations between his agent and the team went well, a league source told ESPNLosAngeles.com late Sunday night.
When the Lakers called to tell Jackson that they had instead chosen Mike D'Antoni to be their next head coach, he was "stunned," according to the source, because he had been under the impression "it was his job to turn down," although no formal offer had ever been made.
Sources over the weekend said Jackson had made significant contract demands, including salary, personnel decisions and the ability to skip some road games, but ESPN NBA analyst Kurt Rambis -- who has since spoken to Jackson -- said that was never the case.
Rambis, a former Lakers player and assistant coach who worked on Jackson-led staffs from 2001-2004 and 2005-2009 and remains close friends with Jackson, said Jackson told him there had never been any discussions of salary or restrictions on a potential return and that he and the Lakers had agreed to wait until Monday to negotiate.
"It's a process with Phil," Rambis said Monday. "He goes through an entire mental process of envisioning the season and how to get the team to the NBA Finals. It's about winning for him, not just whether he wants to coach."
Instead, the Lakers went with D'Antoni, believing he was a better fit for their current roster, sources told ESPN.
Another strike against the triangle was that this Lakers team struggled mightily picking up the similarly complicated Princeton-style offense being instituted by former coach Mike Brown, who was fired Friday.
Lakers spokesman John Black said team owner Jerry Buss, executive vice president Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak were "unanimous that D'Antoni was the best coach for the team at this time."
They apparently reached that unanimous decision very quickly late Sunday night, as negotiations with D'Antoni did not begin until after the Lakers' win over the Sacramento Kings, sources said.
Before that, fans had been chanting for Jackson's return, and there had been quiet optimism among Laker insiders that it was just a matter of time before Jackson was back on the sideline.
Jackson's agent was even scheduled to fly to Los Angeles on Monday to begin negotiating a deal, a source said.
Jackson and the Lakers had never spoken about a salary, the source said, "but he knew coaches don't make what he used to make anymore." He also never intended to miss any more road games than he had in his previous stints with the Lakers.
"Phil would come back only to win, and skipping games doesn't lead to winning," the source said.
However, Jackson had wanted more say over basketball decisions, another source said.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Jackson also was seeking an ownership stake, according to a person familiar with the situation.
In the end, the Lakers felt D'Antoni gave them a better chance to win this season.