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Tomjanovich Glad He Stepped Down

November 03, 2005|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

DENVER — A year ago, it was Rudy Tomjanovich's team, his town to take over, his position near the top of the Laker flow chart hammered home daily as fans stopped the coach during his Manhattan Beach power walks, or at movie theaters, or at restaurants, encouraging him to keep the Lakers in championship contention.

The now-familiar ending -- Tomjanovich resigned in February, walking away from a five-year, $30-million contract because of physical and mental fatigue -- opened the door for Phil Jackson's return, with Tomjanovich moving to the back of the room.

Tomjanovich now attends NBA games as a Laker scout, analyzing players who could be traded during the season or could become free agents in July. Tomjanovich is under contract for two seasons with the Lakers as part of the $9-million settlement the team gave him.

"I was used to being on the front line but, just like the military, the generals don't stay up there all the time," Tomjanovich said. "I had my service up there. Now I think I can do some positive things by not being up there, by being a step or two back.

"I'm very happy. I feel blessed and really love what I'm doing. The people with the Lakers have been so good to me. I want to go out and help them every way I can. This is the way to do it."

The Lakers were 24-19 under Tomjanovich and 10-29 after he resigned, a difficult schedule and injuries destroying their above-.500 start.

Tomjanovich, 56, said he sometimes gets "that crazy urge" to coach again, but then remembers what happened last season, acknowledging he tried to return to coaching too quickly after being diagnosed with bladder cancer in March 2003.

"What good is it if I get sick?" Tomjanovich said. "I probably came back too soon. I was just so tremendously honored with the Lakers coming my way, and I sort of had a plan that I was at least going to wait another year. But if you wait another year, the Lakers would get somebody else. Physically, it was probably too soon for my body."

Tomjanovich recently had a biopsy that showed no recurrence of cancer.

He still keeps an eye on the Lakers.

"The team is in great hands, with one of the greatest coaches of all time," he said. "I just think it's a great challenge. The signs that I've seen have been very, very positive.

"What I saw, I'd say they have a good chance [of making the playoffs]."

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