The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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April 19, 2014

Lakers mum on D’Antoni

Mullens native will spend Easter with family before any decision on future

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Mike D’Antoni was still the Los Angeles Lakers’ coach when he left their training complex to spend the Easter weekend out of town with his family.

How long the Mullens native retains his job won’t be decided at least until next week.

General manager Mitch Kupchak praised his embattled coach Friday while the Lakers finished their final exit interviews and headed to an unusually early summer following a franchise-worst 55-loss season. D’Antoni will meet with Kupchak and Lakers owner Jim Buss in the near future to determine whether the veteran coach returns.

“He’s under contract for two more years,” Kupchak said. “If anything changes, we’ll let you know.”

D’Antoni will make $4 million next year, and the Lakers hold an option for 2015-16. If he is asked to leave, the Lakers will have their fourth head coach in just over three years since Phil Jackson walked away from the team in 2011.

The Lakers’ decision on D’Antoni will be both a reaction to a miserable season and a reflection of the franchise’s ambition for the future. With just three players under contract for next season and a top-10 pick in a strong draft, the Lakers’ reconfiguration will begin in earnest this summer, but it’s uncertain whether Buss and Kupchak want D’Antoni to lead it.

D’Antoni isn’t disturbed or surprised by the scrutiny around him. He is 67-87 since taking over for Mike Brown early last season, occasionally clashing with stars Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol while the Lakers fell to their worst winning percentage since 1958.

“Every coach should be under scrutiny,” said D’Antoni, who had been rumored to be in the mix to take over as head coach at Marshall, his alma mater. “Some coaches get fired even after the best years they’ve ever had. ... There’s always things we could have done better, and it’s easier with hindsight. Things don’t always go smoothly. For the most part, our guys were very competitive. For us, there are some silver linings in there, but in hindsight, it’s disappointing for everybody.”

Kupchak didn’t blame D’Antoni for the Lakers’ season, instead citing the injury woes that hurt them before the season even began. Bryant and Steve Nash spent most of the year on the sideline as Los Angeles lost a league-worst 319 man-games to injury.

Kupchak also had nothing critical to say about Bryant, who was in Europe this week while his teammates wrapped up the season. The fourth-leading scorer in NBA history has said he’s not interested in a lengthy rebuilding process, but Kupchak hopes to emulate the Lakers’ turnaround in the middle of the last decade when they went from their last playoff absence in 2005 to the NBA Finals in 2008.

“I would be happy if it took the same amount of time,” Kupchak said. “I don’t want to put a number on the number of summers, but I believe we can. I believe this is an attractive destination.”

The Lakers’ last revival hinged on acquiring Gasol, who is an unrestricted free agent. Although Gasol and D’Antoni seemed an ill fit for most of the past two years, Kupchak said the Lakers will talk to the 7-foot Spaniard.

“Absolutely, he is a priority,” Kupchak said. “If you look at the free-agent board ... there’s probably not a player as good as Pau on the board. I think Pau has a great relationship with the organization. I know he loves the city. But he’ll be pursued and he’ll have options, and we’ll just have to see what the marketplace dictates.”

Only Bryant, Nash and center Robert Sacre are under contract for next season. The Lakers have an option on point guard Kendall Marshall, who received praise from Kupchak, while leading scorer Nick Young has a player option that he is unlikely to exercise.

Although Bryant’s $48.5 million contract eats up a big chunk of that space, the Lakers have the freedom to make a few moves. They also have their highest draft pick since 1982, when the franchise chose Hall of Famer James Worthy.

Kupchak doesn’t envision a magic fix for the 16-time NBA champions, but the veteran GM has spent months working on a plan. Whether it includes D’Antoni should be known soon.

“There is a degree of patience here,” Kupchak said. “It’s not like we’ve worked four years to create financial flexibility and now no matter what on July 8 we’ve got to spend it all or lose it all. We have to make sure that we use it wisely. If we can use it wisely right away, we will. If we have to use part of it and wait a year to use the other part of it, we’ll do that.”

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