The Los Angeles Lakers' Guide to Spinning Bad Publicity

Ethan Sherwood StraussNBA Lead WriterNovember 15, 2012

EL SEGUNDO, CA - AUGUST 10:  Dwight Howard (L) walks with General Manager Mitch Kupchak of the Los Angeles Lakers being introduced as the newest member of the Lakers at a news conference at the Toyota Sports Center on August 10, 2012 in El Segundo, California. The Lakers aquired Howard from Orlando Magic in a four-team trade. In addition Lakers wil receive Chris Duhon and Earl Clark from the Magic.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

It's impossible to know what really happened in the Phil Jackson-Lakers affair (or the Mike Brown hubbub, or the D'Antoni imbroglio, or whatever you want to call it). There are so many anonymous sources, so many competing agendas. I'm inclined to believe Phil Jackson because he came out and stood by his statement, but I trust the non-anonymous sources.

According to the legendary coach (via the New York Daily News), this is how it all unfolded:

Saturday morning, Jim Buss, called to ask if he could come and visit. I did not solicit or ask for the opportunity, but I welcomed both he and Mitch Kupchak into my home to discuss the possibility of my return to the Lakers as the head coach. We talked for over an hour and a half. 

No contractual terms were discussed and we concluded with a hand shake and an understanding that I would have until Monday (today) to come back to them with my decision. I did convey to them that I did have the confidence that I could do the job. 

I was awakened at midnight on Sunday by a phone call from Mitch Kupchak. He told me that the Lakers had signed Mike D'Antoni to a 3-year agreement and that they felt he was the best coach for the team. The decision is of course theirs to make. I am gratified by the groundswell of support from the Laker Fans who endorsed my return and it is the principal reason why I considered the possibility.

I love how Jackson tweaks Lakers management by appealing to Lakers fan sentiments. The tacit charge is, "I'm more popular than you are." Jackson also blasted Lakers management decorum to the Los Angeles Times, saying:

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.


So, this is something of an ugly situation for the Lakers. The fans were pining for Phil, expected Phil and now they have a consolation prize in the form of a coach they once rooted against. All that would be fine if Mike toted Phil's cachet. Fair or not, the paying public has more belief vested in the guy with 11 championships. 

L.A.'s PR approach was direct and indirect all at once. Allow me to explain. General manager Mitch Kupchak defended L.A.'s hiring process in a lengthy and frank fashion on the Lakers website. Kupchak even candidly added juicy details like, "I believe I woke {Phil Jackson} up. He's always a little cryptic on the phone, but I did wake him up, and in those kinds of situations, there is not a lot of small talk."

But, the directness was indirect because it came from Kupchak, and not Jim Buss. The swirling rumors do not revolve around acrimony between Jackson and Kupchak. Everyone's convinced that the heir to Jerry Buss' throne has a beef with Phil. 

To reassure fans that their team's new owner isn't a James Dolan clone, the younger Buss must make himself publicly available and personable. For now, he seems like someone who works in the shadows, settling scores that are divorced from team goals. 

With Lakers legend Magic Johnson saying on ESPN's NBA studio show, "I love Dr. (Jerry) Buss. I don't believe in Jim Buss," it's time for Jim Buss to demonstrate that he's someone of substance. Hiding behind Kupchak won't calm waters when most people assume that Buss is making the decisions. For the Lakers, the problem isn't the message—it's who's saying it.