LOS ANGELES -- Rudy Tomjanovich, who guided the Houston Rockets to NBA championships in 1994 and 1995, agreed yesterday to coach the Los Angeles Lakers. "We expect that he'll sign a contract and we'll hold a press conference [today] to announce it," team spokesman John Black said.
In a move expected for the last five days, 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 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 Lakers 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 reportedly 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 was only a matter of time for Tomjanovich to be hired after Krzyzewski announced his decision. General manager Mitch Kupchak said Tuesday the Lakers had "identified the guy we want to hire" and that Tomjanovich "would be a wonderful selection" if hired.
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 becomes the fourth coach in NBA history to coach one team to multiple championships before being hired by another, joining Bill Russell, Riley, and Jackson.
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, Nuggets, and Knicks this week and reportedly could make a decision as soon as this weekend. Free agents can sign contracts beginning Wednesday. "Derek and Rudy are going to talk and learn a lot more about each other," said Fisher's agent, Mark Bartelstein.