Lakers Snub of Phil Jackson Will Cost Kobe NBA Title He Needs to Cement Legacy
What were they thinking?
Because whatever it was, the Lakers snub of the Zen Master in favor of "seven seconds" Mike D'Antoni makes about as much sense as the hiring of Mike Brown did in 2011.
Jim Buss obviously got it wrong when he hired Brown a year-and-a-half ago, celebrating a new era in Laker Nation that would revolve around tenacious defense and a lost-in-the-headlights offensive scheme that seemed to come straight out of a Los Angeles Middle School playbook.
With that move, Buss also sent assistant and Jackson disciple Brian Shaw packing. He wanted no remnants of the Triangle Offense or Phil Jackson at Staples Center.
Atrocious is too kind a word to describe how the talents of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum were wasted under Brown—or, rather, how they were mismanaged.
Remember that 13-game stretch last January when the Lakers failed to score 100 points? Or how they barely got out of the first round of the playoffs and were then trashed by OKC in the second?
Brown was unceremoniously dumped last Friday after five regular season games. It was the quickest ax of an NBA head coach since Dolph Shayes resigned from the Buffalo Braves head job one game into the 1971 season. Why did management not fire him after a dismal playoff run or before the second season started?
Brown's dismissal was not the classiest move, but the ensuing 72 hours would make that pale in comparison. The Lakers public panic to secure a new coach shifted into warp speed Friday and Saturday with initial speculation centering around Phil Jackson.
Apparently, the Lakers wanted Phil and Phil wanted back in.
Who was the best choice to head the Lakers?
Jim Buss, Mitch Kupchak and Jerry Buss had a grand opportunity to right their sinking ship and bring back the only logical coach who made the most sense. Everyone seemed to want it—players, fans, sports writers, management. Even the so-called pundits and experts called for the hiring of Jackson.
So, no one saw this coming.
Phil Jackson must have challenged Jim Buss to a dual and, instead, Jerry's son pulled the rug out first, telling Jackson by phone that the job had been offered to someone else.
T.J. Simers of the L.A. Times took this approach on Monday in a column entitled: "It's unanimous: Lakers' selection of Mike D'Antoni over Phil Jackson is wrong." In his scathing report, Simers sounded like a lot of Lakers fans feel right now: betrayed.
Jackson was obviously interested in the job, which prompted the Lakers' brass to let the basketball world know it was 95%-5% that Jackson was returning. We were told on Saturday it's a 95% chance the ring master is coming back to coach, no one mentioning the 5% in the minority were apparently Jerry Buss, Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak.
On Sunday night Kupchak called Jackson to tell him the Lakers had hired D'Antoni. What was that all about? After spending 90 minutes with him the day before—to call back at midnight to say 'it's been nice, Phil, but we're going to break up with you."
Wow, talk about being jilted at the altar.
Phil was stunned, scribes were shocked and most players taken aback. Fans, of course, were outraged. There has not been one word from Lakers management—not one—other than for a team spokesman to say they hired D'Antoni "because we felt he was the best coach for this team."
Sorry, fellas, but the numbers just don't add up. Phil has 11 titles, Mike has 0.
Despite all the chatter we're now hearing on Sports Talk Radio, let's been honest: Mike D'antoni's up-tempo, speed-oriented, quick-shot offense does not really suit the Lakers, with the lone exception being Bryant.
Yes, Steve Nash won two consecutive league MVP awards (2005, 2006) in Phoenix playing in D'Antoni's system, but that was seven years ago. Nash is now 38 and recovering from a broken leg.
How will D'Antoni run the "seven second" offense around Nash, Dwight Howard, 32-year-old Pau Gasol, 32-year-old Metta World Peace, and the 34-year-old Bryant? Sure, these players are in great shape, but to think they can stand up to the wear and tear of such an offense for 82 games and multiple playoff rounds is ridiculous.
D'Antoni has taken NBA teams to the Western Conference Finals (and lost) twice. But he has never been to the NBA Finals, while Jackson has won 11 championships.
Will the Lakers Get to the NBA Finals Under Mike D'antoni?
We could have had Phil, but now we get another Mike? Supposedly a funny guy, a player's coach with a really cool offense.
And no rings to show for it.
In their 90-minute discussion on the weekend, Jackson probably did suggest to Buss and Kupchak that he would like a piece of the team, more power in player personnel moves and the possibility of not taking every single road trip with the team.
But it doesn't appear those were deal breaker points—merely suggestions thrown into the conversation by the Zen Master. Most suggest Phil was ready to take the deal and for less money than he got in his last Lakers contract.
He didn't deserve the job, that's their decision. They can hire whoever they wish. But don't say to someone you've got until Monday and then roust him from slumber at midnight to say, "By the way we hired somebody else." That's just not fair dealing and Phil deserved fair dealing. He's a good faith person and he was dealt with poorly. It is indicative of the shabby way that organization is being run.
We may never know the truth of what transpired over one of the wildest, wackiest weekends in L.A. sports history. All evidence points to it being a power play by Lakers management, specifically Jim Buss, to show everyone who is in charge of the team.
As Marcellus Wiley of ESPN Radio said on air today: "Jim Buss does not like Phil Jackson and everybody knows that."
Skip Bayless, on ESPN First Take, chimed in on the side of Jackson: "Mike D'Antoni will be a disaster. You know who loses big here? Laker fans."
According to a team spokesman, the Lakers hired D'antoni "because we felt he was the best coach for this team." Sorry, fellas, but the numbers just don't add up—Phil has 11 titles, Mike has 0.
The NBA is a business and the Buss family made a business decision to hire D'antoni. But, in the process, they showed a real lack of class in the way they went about it and will have a very large price to pay if the Lakers don't make a strong showing in next spring's playoffs.
Like winning the NBA title. Anything less will be unacceptable.
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