The Los Angeles Lakers front office continues to dig themselves into a bigger and deeper hole after the coaching change that took place over the weekend. It's not that they necessarily made the wrong choice. It's that everything going on seems to hint that there's more going on behind the scenes, and we really don't know the full story.
Jim Buss' feud and desire to distance himself from Phil Jackson have been well documented. That's a big reason why Mike Brown was hired instead of Brian Shaw last Summer. Now it seems that either general manager Mitch Kupchak has either turned against Phil with the ownership group, or he became no more than a figurehead in the coaching search as it seems it was just like last time they went to find a new head coach.
The main reason for passing on Jackson in the first place was the notion that the current incarnation of this team would fit together a lot better under a D'Antoni run-and-gun set than they would in Jackson's triangle offense.
Part of that is obviously based in the fact that point guards are marginalized in the Triangle and deified in D'Antoni's seven-seconds-or-less style that fits Steve Nash a lot more than the Triangle ever would. That's the most believable argument the Lakers brass has.
There's one main problem, however. The argument from Kupchak in his address to the media is that Jackson's triangle not only fit Nash poorly but the entire team poorly, at least in comparison to D'Antoni's offense.
For that to be true we have to assume that the Lakers, despite their collective advanced age, will be able to run a more fast-paced offense for the next seven-plus months. Plus we're going to have to assume that Nash's leg fracture isn't incredibly serious, even tough his initial time out has already been extended by a week or two after a re-evaluation on Saturday.
The most egregious argument Kupchak made was with regards to Dwight Howard:
Right now, it's Kobe Bryant and right there is Steve Nash and Pau Gasol. But the cornerstone for this franchise, just based on talent and age, is Dwight Howard. A big part of getting the most out of Dwight was important in the search.
It doesn't take a lot of hard work to look at the track record of D'Antoni and his work with big men. Sure they work in his system when he's got the greatest pick-and-roll point guard of all-time running plays, but it takes more than that to cultivate talent.
Over the Summer Amar'e Stoudemire worked out with Hakeem Olajuwon, not because he wanted to refine his post game, but because he wanted to create a post game. D'Antoni-led centers aren't cultivated. They're exhausted for whatever resources they have.
Howard is going to learn to execute a pick-and-roll to the absolute best of his ability, and because he's big and athletic, it's going to work out for the Lakers, but this is in no way something that would make him better in the long-run than Jackson would have.
Jackson isn't just a coach. He has aided in the creation of greatness over his career. There's a reason he's coached four of the 50 best players in NBA history, and it's not just luck. Guys come to him with skill and desire (or in Shaq's case just skill), and together they create greatness on the court.
What seems confusing isn't that the Lakers went with D'Antoni, but that they dangled the line out in front of Jackson, only to snatch it away moments before he was about to bite. D'Antoni was officially hired right around midnight on the 11th, but Jackson was set to give his answer to the Lakers sometime the following day.
It's one thing not to want to wait for an average, everyday coach to make a decision, but to deny the greatest coach of our time just two days of waiting that he asked for? That's just shady, especially when they hired D'Antoni just hours before Jackson was set to give them a response.
Everything—the timing, the people involved, the circumstances in which Jackson was denied the job—points to Jim Buss not wanting to give power back to Jackson after he had finally wrestled it away after the 2011 season. Jackson's stance on the circumstances are the most damning to Buss and the front office:
I wish it would have been a little bit cleaner. It would have been much more circumspect and respectful of everybody that's involved. It seemed slimy to be awoken with this kind of news. It's just weird.
Now the Lakers have Mike D'Antoni, a coach that I'm a big fan of, but a guy who is not Phil Jackson. He may have an offensive system that will be "simpler" to implement, but he's not the guy who will cultivate Howard in a way to make him the best big man possible over the life of his Lakers career.
Instead D'Antoni is the guy who runs an offense that the Buss Family finds entertaining, has a history of coaching good teams and won't take any control away from Buss that he worked to gain over the past few seasons.