Duke's Krzyzewski played out Lakers situation to perfection
Posted: Monday July 5, 2004 3:13PM; Updated: Monday July 5, 2004 3:26PM
Mike Krzyzewski's Duke team lost in the 2004 Final Four to eventual champion UConn.
So Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski displayed the good sense that we were all fairly certain he had, declining general manager Kobe Bryant's -- I mean, general manager Mitch Kupchak's -- offer to coach the Los Angeles Lakers. Krzyzewski apparently realized that the reported $40 million he was offered wasn't enough for him to immerse himself in the chaos and egomania that runs rampant in the Lakers organization at the moment. Things are so much saner in Krzyzewskiville. Not to mention, the real estate is cheaper.
Sure, the money would have been better, the challenge of coaching at the highest level of basketball was compelling and his best players wouldn't have skipped out on him after a year or two (unless they didn't like their contract, their teammates or their team's won-lost record, but that's another story.) But at Duke, Coach "K" stands for "king" -- of all Krzyzewski surveys. The folks in Durham, N.C., worship the man's every X and O. You got the feeling that Duke gladly would have shipped the university president and the law school faculty to the Lakers if only they would stop chasing Krzyzewski.
And Krzyzewski was supposed to give up all that for what? To go to the Lakers as Bryant's bobo? He had to know that he would never be comfortable with the knowledge that Bryant had essentially hired him and probably could fire him. The Lakers, desperate to keep Kobe from bolting as a free agent, pursued Coach K at Bryant's urging. How was Krzyzewski supposed to assert his coaching authority over Kobe when both men were fully aware of who really had the power? Even Lakers owner Jerry Buss couldn't pay Krzyzewski, one of the great control freaks in sports, enough money to live with that setup.
But Coach K should be eternally grateful to Kobe and the Lakers for calling, because they made his sweet deal at Duke even sweeter, which didn't seem possible. The only thing better than being offered the Lakers' job is turning down the Lakers' job.
For the rest of his career, Coach K can tell wide-eyed recruits, "Yeah, Kobe wanted me to come and save the Lakers' franchise, but then I wouldn't have had the chance to recruit outstanding young men like you, son." Other schools can never again credibly suggest to recruits that Coach K might abandon them for the pros if they go to Duke, because if he turned down the Lakers, what other offer could lure him away?
It's hard to believe that it took Krzyzewski a weekend of soul-searching to see all this. He could have listened to the Lakers' offer, then quietly and politely declined the same day. But then he wouldn't have been in the headlines for the entire weekend, with each speculative story raising his profile even more, not to mention his public speaking fees and his endorsement possibilities. It wouldn't be surprising if he parlayed the Lakers' interest into a few more perks from the Duke administration. Stretching things out was a great career move. All in all, Coach K played this situation out as masterfully as any game he's ever coached.
The Lakers, meanwhile, are back to square one. Or make that, negative one. They have rashly put all their eggs in the Kobe basket, apparently damaging their relationship with Shaquille O'Neal beyond repair. Now they have little leverage in their attempts to trade Shaq, because his unwillingness to return to the Lakers is public knowledge. They have bent over backwards to appease Kobe, yet they still have no guarantee that Bryant will re-sign with them.
In short, Kupchak somehow has maneuvered himself into a situation in which it's increasingly possible that neither Shaq nor Kobe nor long-gone coach Phil Jackson will be working for the purple and gold next year, in which case, the Lakers GM surely will be looking for a new place of employment himself before long.
Even though Kupchak is an alum of hated North Carolina, maybe Krzyzewski would hire him as an assistant. Considering how beautifully this whole scenario played out for Coach K, it's the least he could do.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Phil Taylor writes about a Hot Button topic every Monday on SI.com.