Local News

Going Pro? L.A. Lakers Courting Coach K

Posted July 2, 2004 6:53 a.m. EDT

— Mike Krzyzewski has spent 24 years turning Duke into a basketball powerhouse and building a legacy as one of college basketball's greatest coaches. Now he's considering whether it's time for a change.


Los Angeles Times

reports Krzyzewski has been offered a multiyear contract discussed at an estimated $8 million a year.

Krzyzewski, 57, met with Los Angeles Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak on Thursday and was in discussions with the team about its coaching vacancy.

The newspaper also reports Laker Kobe Bryant and Krzyzewski have talked.

"Coach K has informed us that the Los Angeles Lakers have contacted him and entered into serious discussions," Duke athletic director Joe Alleva said.

ESPN reported Thursday that the Lakers offered Krzyzewski a job. According to ESPN's Jim Gray, the Lakers expect to hear from Krzyzewski in the next few days and hope to have their coaching search wrapped up by next week.

Lakers spokesman John Black said only that Kupchak met with Krzyzewski.

"They talked about our coaching vacancy," he said.

Black said the team had not made a decision and was considering several other candidates to replace Phil Jackson.

Duke spokesman Jon Jackson said Krzyzewski was in Durham earlier Thursday; the Lakers declined to say where discussions were held.

The mother of incoming freshman David McClure said her son first was informed of the news in a call from assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski on Thursday.

Betty McClure said she spoke with Krzyzewski over the weekend, when the family brought the 6-foot-7 swingman to Durham for summer classes, and said the coach gave no indication of leaving.

"They said that every year he gets approached by some team or another," she said from her home in Ridgefield, Conn. "And so, how can you really expend a lot of energy being angry or anything until you know what he's going to do?"

David McClure, reached Thursday night, said he had been told by the coaching staff not to comment.

Duke president Richard Brodhead said Athletics Director Joe Alleva and he had dinner with Krzyzewski on Tuesday after Brodhead became aware that Krzyzewski had talked with the Lakers.

Brodhead said he did not know if the Lakers had made an offer to Krzyzewski.

"If he has the offer, he's going to have a big decision before him," said Brodhead, who officially took office as Duke's president Thursday, succeeding Nan Keohane.

Brodhead said Alleva and he urged Krzyzewski to finish his career at the school.

"He means more to this place than the record of his victories, impressive though that is," Brodhead said. "He's a real teacher. He teaches character as well as basketball."

In 24 years at Duke, Krzyzewski has led the Blue Devils to a 621-179 record, three national championships (1991, 1992 and 2001), 10 Final Four appearances, eight ACC Tournament championships and 10 ACC regular-season titles.

Coach K's teams have been ranked No. 1 in 12 different seasons, including each of the last seven years.

"The Lakers' interest in him merely confirms what we have known," Alleva said. "We hope that Mike will decide to stay in college coaching at Duke, a place that has been so special to him throughout his outstanding career.

"Mike has been an incredible asset to our institution and, on a much larger scale, to the sport of college basketball. President Brodhead and I met with Mike for dinner the other night to express at the highest level our desire for him to finish his coaching career at Duke."

The fact that his discussions with the Lakers have become public, the efforts by Alleva and Brodhead to get him to stay at Duke, and his reportedly growing frustration with issues confronting the college game indicate Krzyzewski may be considering a jump to the pros.

"I'm looking at this thing, and there has to be an issue here that has not surfaced," college-basketball commentator and former Duke coach Bucky Waters said. "It may may be money. It may be the challenge. It may be that . . . if you want a crack at the top high-school talent in the country, you have to be in the NBA because that's where they're going."

Earlier this week, Krzyzewski seemed frustrated by the growing trend of college players leaving early for the pros and high-school players skipping college for the NBA.

Coach K lost three underclassmen to the NBA following the 1999 season. He lost freshman Luol Deng and high-school recruit Shaun Livingston -- who never stepped foot on campus -- to the NBA last week.

He said the college game losing its "brand" to the NBA.

"You start to lose your brand," he said. "You start losing your brand. And our brand is at such a level that people say we'll never lose our brand. But, we can."

Interestingly, Krzyzewski recruited Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who would have come to Duke had he not decided to enter the NBA out of high school.

"It's frustrating," Alleva said. "You recruit a kid, and then he leaves after one year; that's frustrating. But that's the landscape of college basketball, and I know that Mike loves college basketball."

Alleva said he did not know how close Krzyzewski was to accepting an offer from the Lakers.

"I can't speak for Mike," Alleva said. "I was not privy to their conversations. I have no idea how close they are. But, obviously, they (the Lakers) are a great franchise."

Waters said he was "as surprised as anybody" by Thursday's news. He didn't think Krzyzewski would be interested in an NBA job.

"I just don't see him being happy in that Disneyland called professional basketball," Waters said. "It's just different. It's a player's league, not a coach's league. But if anybody can do it, he can."

At a Duke fantasy basketball camp last summer, Krzyzewski told campers what he would need to consider being a pro coach.

"The only thing similar about college and pro is that they are both called basketball," Krzyzewski said. "They are completely different. So, what I would do is surround myself with people who had pro experience. I would go into it with a long-term contract and a lot of money. I would want ownership or part ownership, because I'd need strength while I go through my learning curve.

Also, he said: "I would try to have some power to choose certain players that I could bring in and be the basis of my team."

Krzyzewski -- who has a lifetime contract at Duke -- turned down an opportunity to coach the Boston Celtics in 1990 and the Portland Trail Blazers in '94. He reportedly was approached by an NBA team last month but declined an interview.

Though he turned those teams down, this time may be different.

"I have had a lot of conversations with him in the the last few days," Alleva said. "We will do everything we can to keep him in college basketball. You can't put a price tag on what he has meant to this university.

"He knows Duke University. He's been here 24 years. He knows what we're all about, and hopefully, that will win out in the end."

Said Brodhead: "If he (Krzyzewski) decides that he's had a great ride at Duke, but something else calls out to him now, we'd have to understand that. In the meantime, you can be sure we'll do all we can to persuade him that Duke and the college game are the right place for him."

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