Why Lakers Must Stick with Bernie Bickerstaff for Now, Chase Phil Jackson Later
The firing of Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike Brown has sent tremors through the basketball world, and while the team currently has former assistant Bernie Bickerstaff manning the position the rumors are swirling that Phil Jackson could be headed back to the team he coached to five NBA championships, according to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News.
However, while Jackson undoubtedly has the gravitas to potentially right this apparently sinking ship, hiring Jackson as soon as possible is not the right move for Los Angeles. Other coaches like Mike D'Antoni and even Mike Dunleavy, Sr. have been discussed as possibilities, but it appears the organization has its heart set on bringing back the Zen Master.
Mike Brown was fired after a disappointing 41-25 2011-12 campaign and a 1-4 start to the 2012-13 season despite the additions of Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison, but the reality is that this team does not necessarily need another superstar in their locker room to corral the squad.
The presence of too many stars, as has been proved by this L.A. team thus far, can actually be detrimental to the success of a team due to the incessant clashing of egos.
Jackson is among the most revered coaches in the game, and while he has experience coaching everyone from Kobe Bryant to Michael Jordan, he has never had to grapple with this many All-Star-caliber players in one situation as he would in Los Angeles.
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In addition, bringing in Jackson is not the same as promoting an assistant who has spent the entire offseason, training camp and early stretch of the season with this team. Jackson has not coached the Lakers since the Dallas Mavericks swept them in 2010-2011. Despite the presence of Kobe, Metta World Peace and Pau Gasol, there has been plenty of roster turnover here.
He is a coach who runs a very regimented triangle offense, which will be very difficult to implement on the fly with this team, because even though it is still early in the season they have no experience playing it together as a unit.
Another thing to consider is whether the team, under Bickerstaff, will look more to the pick-and-roll game once Nash is healthy.
The team ran a Princeton offense that significantly limited what Nash could do because he barely touched the ball, but under their new interim coach the team may be more willing to try out the Howard-Nash combo that so many teams were fearful for when the two first donned L.A. jerseys.
Jackson has never been a pick-and-roll-oriented coach. As a result, it is difficult to see him running the play much even if might prove to be extremely effective given Nash’s sharpshooting and passing abilities and Howard’s knack for finishing with authority.
Who should coach the Lakers for the remainder of the 2012-13 season?
In their first game of the “Bickerstaff Era” (if we can call it that), the team trounced a solid Golden State Warriors ball club 101-77, holding their high-octane opponent to a paltry 33.7 percent shooting from the field. This is obviously a small sample size, but the team was struggling to create stops under Brown and looked extremely galvanized playing under their new leader.
In addition, it is not as if Bickerstaff is a slouch; he logged time as a head coach with the Charlotte Bobcats and Seattle SuperSonics. Bickerstaff was also on the staffs of the Portland Trail Blazers, Chicago Bulls and Denver Nuggets among other teams. He is not a naïve or inexperience young assistant who will be overwhelmed by the challenges of this task; the 68-year-old has the experience to perform well in his current position.
Moving quickly to bring Phil Jackson back to town also will likely not instill much confidence in the team’s players.
A harried decision like this shows that the front office has little confidence that their squad can figure out how to play as a unit without having someone like Jackson around to whip them into shape. There is the potential for there to be some backlash, although that is by no means a guarantee.
Jackson is also not in particularly exemplary physical shape, as according to the New York Daily News he may seek to miss road games in order to give his ailing, surgically repaired knee time to recover. This would cause a lack in continuity and would make it all the more difficult for the team to become adjusted to Jackson’s coaching style if he is missing a handful of games after coming in midseason.
This L.A. team has a great chance to win a championship in the next year or two, but after that it becomes seriously murky as they have a veteran roster and could be rebuilding around Dwight Howard in the near future. They cannot afford to squander a season while Jackson once again gets acclimated to the NBA, as they may not have many more chances to earn Kobe his sixth ring and Nash his first.
Obviously, with 11 championships to his name Phil Jackson is among the best coaches in not just NBA history but all of sports. However, while it may behoove the Lakers to pursue him in the 2013 offseason, signing or even aggressively pursuing Jackson with the 2012-13 season already underway could hurt their squad. The team’s best option may be to give Bernie Bickerstaff his chance in the spotlight.
Only the Buss family and Jackson himself know how this situation will resolve, but there is no guarantee bringing Jackson back in November will lead them to glory in June.
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