- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 25, 2011

LOS ANGELES (AP) - The Los Angeles Lakers reached a deal in principle with former Cleveland coach Mike Brown on Wednesday to succeed Phil Jackson, according to a person with knowledge of the discussions.

Brown will get a four-year deal worth roughly $18 million, according to the person who spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday on condition of anonymity because the Lakers hadn’t yet formally hired Brown.

The Lakers released a statement later Wednesday confirming the club hopes to make Brown the 22nd coach in franchise history.

“We’ve met with Mike and are very impressed with him,” said the statement issued by the Lakers‘ public relations department. “In addition, we have an outline for an agreement in place and hope to sign a contract within the next few days.”

With a strong interview last weekend, Brown jumped to the front of the line of candidates for the daunting challenge of succeeding the 11-time NBA champion Jackson with one of the NBA’s iconic franchises. The Lakers‘ 16 NBA titles trail only the Boston Celtics’ 17 in league history.

Rather than promoting one of Jackson’s assistant coaches, the Lakers are changing course after an abrupt end to their two-year title reign and the long-anticipated departure of Jackson, the coach with the most championship rings in NBA history.

After nearly quitting last summer, Jackson retired earlier this month after the Dallas Mavericks swept the defending two-time champion Lakers out of the second round of the playoffs.

Although Kobe Bryant endorsed Jackson assistant Brian Shaw for the vacancy, Jim Buss _ the Lakers‘ executive vice president of player personnel and the son of owner Jerry Buss _ became intrigued by Brown after Saturday’s interview.

A respected young tactician with a strong coaching pedigree, Brown also has ample experience with big games and big stars, even if he couldn’t guide LeBron James to a title.

“I think it’s great,” James said in Miami, where he’s preparing for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals.

ESPN, which employed Brown as an analyst this season, first reported Brown had been hired.

The 41-year-old Brown led the Cavaliers to the 2007 NBA finals and went 272-138 in five years with Cleveland, becoming the most successful coach in franchise history while compiling the league’s best regular-season record in each of his last two seasons.

But the 2009 NBA coach of the year was fired last spring following the Cavs’ dissension-filled exit from the second round of the postseason, and James left for Miami a few weeks later.

Although James was critical of Brown’s strategies during their final playoff run together, the two-time NBA MVP strongly endorsed his former coach Wednesday.

Mike Brown is a great coach,” James said. “He brought us success that we hadn’t had before in that city, and it started with his defensive concepts. He brought in a defensive mindset that we didn’t have. Fifty-plus wins, he was coach of the year, he got us to the (NBA) finals, won us the Eastern Conference finals … because of him and his coaching staff. I respect him. He definitely helped me become who I am today.”

Brown’s background in defense apparently intrigues the Lakers, whose last two title runs were built on sturdy defense led by Bryant and 7-foot shot-blocker Andrew Bynum, a favorite of Jim Buss. Brown is a former assistant to San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich and Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, who employed Brown as his defensive coordinator in Indiana when Lakers forward Ron Artest was named the NBA’s top defensive player in 2004.

Bryant and his teammates apparently weren’t consulted during the coaching search, and Bryant declined to comment on Brown’s hiring Wednesday when reached by the Los Angeles Times. Bryant publicly supported Shaw, his former Lakers teammate, but the two-time NBA finals MVP also said the Lakers should find a coach who believes in hard-nosed defense.

“I don’t believe in building a championship team on offense,” Bryant said two weeks ago after his exit interview with Lakers brass. “It has to be built on defense and rebounding, period.”

Brown’s reputation as an offensive coach was savaged during his time with the Cavaliers, who often appeared to be running a 1-on-5 scheme for James.

Bryant, who will turn 33 before next season, has similar ball-dominating tendencies _ but he also has more talent around him than James ever had in Cleveland, from 7-foot All-Star forward Pau Gasol to a bench led by Sixth Man of the Year Lamar Odom.

During an interview with Sirius XM Radio on Tuesday, Jerry Buss said the Lakers “won’t continue exclusively with the triangle” offense championed by Jackson.

The Lakers also showed interest in veteran coach Rick Adelman, who left the Houston Rockets last month, and Mike Dunleavy, the former Lakers and Clippers coach. Shaw was the favorite candidate among the current Lakers, with Derek Fisher and Bynum joining Bryant in throwing their support behind him.

But the Buss family has a history of idiosyncratic coaching hires, often from outside the organization. When Jackson left the Lakers for a year in 2004, they replaced him with former Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovich, who resigned midway through his only season because of health issues.

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has said the club is likely to return with largely the same veteran core that won the past two NBA titles before falling short this season. Los Angeles already has more than $85 million in salary committed to eight players for next season, likely meaning the Lakers will have the NBA’s largest payroll again next season.

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AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.