Phil Jackson was the right man to become the next head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, but the organization’s decision to sign NBA veteran Mike D’Antoni to a four-year deal (h/t Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times) has stunned most of the sports world—including Jackson.
Who was the better coaching option?
D’Antoni’s deal with the Lakers is reportedly worth $12 million over three guaranteed seasons and a team option for a fourth year.
While the popular consensus was that a legend like Jackson would be the perfect personality to control as many egos as Los Angeles has on the roster, the report claims that “Dr. [Jerry] Buss, Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak were unanimous that Mike D'Antoni was the best coach for the team at this time.”
There had been a strenuous relationship between LA management and Jackson over the years, and there is little doubt that despite meeting with the 11-time champion, the organization had no intention of fulfilling the former coach’s demands.
Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein of ESPN are reporting about how Jackson took the news that he would not be the next head coach of the Lakers:
A league source indicated late Sunday night that Jackson was "stunned" when the Lakers called to inform him they had chosen D'Antoni. He had been prepared to accept the job Monday if negotiations between his agent and the Lakers went well. Jackson's agent Todd Musberger (sic) had been scheduled to fly in to Los Angeles on Monday.
The Lakers can claim that Jackson’s triangle offense would have taken too long to implement and D’Antoni’s familiarity with Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant would make an instant change, but that’s all just justification of the decision.
Jackson is the superior coach and would have given Los Angeles a better chance to win this season and next. Once again, the behind-the-scene politics surrounding the Lakers organization will hurt the productivity of the team.
That’s not to say D’Antoni won’t get LA playing well, though.
As we saw from the head coach’s time with Steve Nash in Phoenix—not so much in New York with the Knicks—D’Antoni not only has experience in the Western Conference, but he has a rapport with the majority of the players under contract in Los Angeles. The team will definitely be better in the new head coach’s offensive schemes than they are currently.
The problem is that everything that the Lakers do from now until D’Antoni is fired or fulfills his contract will be compared to what Jackson did with the team during his tenure. While it won’t be fair to the current team to compare the two coaches, that’s the position the organization put itself in.
Jackson may have been genuinely surprised by the move to sign D’Antoni Sunday night by the Lakers, but the feeling must have quickly worn off. This is a man that knows the organization and the Buss family as well as anyone, and this is just the latest in a long history of ego-driven moves that will backfire in the long run.
The reason everyone has been stunned by this move is because it’s wrong—plain and simple.
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