Is Phil Jackson the Missing Link to Repairing LA Lakers' Uncertain Future?

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistSeptember 23, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 02:  Head coach Phil Jackson of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on during the national anthem before the Lakers take on the Dallas Mavericks in Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 2, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

"Uncertain future" and "Los Angeles Lakers" haven't typically belonged in the same sentence. 

Even when the team has struggled, there's been hope for the future. We haven't been fully plunged into the realms of interrogatives in quite some time, as there's typically been a star player in his prime or enough appeal that one will soon arise.

Can you even remember a Lakers squad without Kobe Bryant or Magic Johnson leading the charge?

But right now, uncertainty is the name of the game for the Lakers. On so many levels, from Kobe's Achilles to the rest of the roster to whatever is going to happen at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season.

Fortunately, there's one man who can help repair it all: Phil Jackson.  

Help Fix the Rift Between the Busses

EL SEGUNDO, CA - AUGUST 10:  Jim Buss and his sister Jeanie Buss of the Los Angeles Lakers attend a news conference where Dwight Howard was introduced as the newest member of the team at the Toyota Sports Center on August 10, 2012 in El Segundo, Californi
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

When two siblings are fighting, it can be difficult to spend time with them. You want to avoid the situation rather than get yourself firmly embroiled in it. 

But it's even worse when those two siblings are prominent decision-makers for a major organization like the Lakers. If Jim and Beanie Buss aren't getting along, that drastically diminishes the appeal of the franchise, and it's a franchise that relies heavily on appeal to restock with top-notch talent each and every year. 

By all accounts, Jim's decision to hire Mike D'Antoni instead of Phil Jackson hasn't sat so well with his sister. The following is an excerpt from her memoir, "Laker Girl," as shared by the Los Angeles Times

By the next day, stories began coming out in the media that Phil wanted part ownership of the team, had demanded a ridiculous salary, and had insisted on not traveling with the team on some of our road trips.

None of that was true...

Two days after Phil got that phone call, I was at the gym when I started crying so hysterically that they sent me home.

My sister, Janie, knew the whole situation was tearing me apart, but I don't think anybody else in my family understood how much it had hurt me. It physically hurt me.

The sequence of events—Phil almost coming back and then being told someone else was better for the job—practically destroyed me. It almost took away my passion for this job and this game. It felt like I had been stabbed in the back. It was a betrayal. I was devastated.

I felt that I got played. Why did they have to do that? Why did Jim pull Phil back into the mix if he wasn't sincere about it?...

Phil wasn't looking for the job, and then he wasted 36 hours of his life preparing for it when they were never in a million years going to hire him anyway.

How do you do that to your sister? How do you do that to Phil Jackson?

While the entire excerpted passage is worth reading, this stands out as the most cogent portion. It's truly representative of the burgeoning rift and the decline in both communication and relationship between the two most prominent Buss siblings. 

I wrote extensively about the situation with Jim and Jeanie here, but allow me to go over a few of the key events in their time line once more. Just to refresh your memory.

Over the last few months, we've seen Jeanie take a subtle dig at her brother following his failure to retain Dwight Howard, tacitly accusing him of changing the "Laker way." We've had B/R's Kevin Ding (then with the Orange County Register) report that the two siblings weren't speaking to each other.  

Hell, famous rap artists have even gotten involved!

When Snoop Dogg Lion has enough time to talk about the Lakers at a Playboy event...

This rift isn't suddenly going to disappear.

But hiring Jackson would at least help to assuage some of the wounds and close the gap for the time being. He might not be able to fully bring the two together, but at least Jeanie will feel appeased and not as personally affronted. 

If Jim and Jeanie can't work together, the entire organization will continue being thrust into disarray. Especially in a time filled with so much uncertainty.  

Question Marks with Kobe Bryant

BOSTON - JUNE 10:  Head coach Phil Jackson talks to Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers in the game against the Boston Celtics during Game Four of the 2010 NBA Finals on June 10, 2010 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User express
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Right now, there are more questions marks surrounding Kobe Bryant than you could find encircling the head of any cartoon character. 

When will he return from his Achilles injury? How long will it take him to regain his pre-injury form? Can he play like an MVP again? What will his role be on this less talented Lakers squad? What happens next summer? Will he retire? Will he sign a max deal? Will he take a pay cut? How many years does he have left? 

At this point, you probably see what I mean. And the scary part is that no one has a realistic shot at answering the questions correctly. It's all speculation at this point. 

History tells us that veteran players struggle to return from a ruptured Achilles in a reasonable amount of time. You can use Chauncey Billups as the recent example if you'd like. 

But it's Kobe.

The Mamba isn't some mere mortal that lets the whims of the injury imp dictate the progression of his career. He does things like drilling two big free throws right after hurting himself, knocking them down before retreating to the locker room. 

So, who do you want managing Kobe during this time of uncertainty? That's perhaps the biggest question of all. 

While Jackson has publicly said that Bryant is very sensitive to criticism and taken a firm stance on the Michael Jordan side of the Jordan-Kobe "argument," he's still the man for the job. 

Let's just take a look at Kobe's response to Phil's Jordan-related claim: 

While the Mamba loves responding to negative feedback in a public forum, he only does that when it comes from a truly prominent source. Jackson most certainly is, and if you read between the lines, there may be a slight hint that Kobe cares about what his former coach thinks and says. 

Even when these two didn't have the strongest relationship, they still won together. And winning is the great panacea in professional sports; it literally trumps everything else in most cases. 

No matter what type of role Jackson could take on with the L.A. organization—either as a coach or in a front-office role, a job he once indicated that he was interested in for a Seattle-based team—he'd help the Lakers find more success in the wins column. 

At this stage in No. 24's career, it's all about No. 6. And last time I checked, that involved a lot of winning. 

Appeal in a Time of Uncertainty 

CHARLOTTE, NC - FEBRUARY 14:  Head coach Phil Jackson talks to Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers during their game against the Charlotte Bobcats at Time Warner Cable Arena on February 14, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expre
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Everything is up in the air for the Lakers right now.

To show you what I mean, take a look at the guaranteed salary they have committed over the next few years, courtesy of

Amazingly enough, that 2014-15 bar (while technically accurate) is misleadingly long. It includes Steve Nash's full salary, and that could be stretched out over the next few seasons should the Lake Show use the aptly named Stretch Provision. It also accounts for Nick Young's player option, which he may well decline in favor of a bigger payday. 

The Lakers aren't looking to plug holes in the 2014 offseason; they're looking to completely rebuild the team. And to do that, it's all about the franchise's appeal. 

Remember what ESPN's Ramona Shelburne reported about the pursuit of Dwight Howard? 

He told a story of meeting him last August, soon after he was traded from Orlando, where he was genuinely surprised the 16 championship trophies that are in her office were in fact real. Buss laughed and said, "Of course they're real."

Howard explained that during the 2009 NBA Finals, then-Magic coach Stan Van Gundy caught him staring up at the trophies during a practice and told him, "'Those aren't real. Those are just props. Don't pay attention to those, they're not real.'" And so that's why he thought Buss' weren't real.

It's the history of this franchise that lures in free agents. It's the color scheme, the one that can't help but usher in thoughts of Hall of Famers whenever a basketball fan sees it. It's the knowledge that the management will do whatever it takes to win championships. 

More than anything else, it's the certainty that L.A. can successfully reload each offseason.

But now that certainty is gone. We're actually asking questions about whether or not the Lakers can lure in stars, and a large factor there is the aforementioned rift between two prominent members of the front office. No one wants to get caught up in that mix. 

Unless Jackson is there. 

The sheer presence of the Zen Master is enough that it will be useful in the recruiting process. Players want to be affiliated with the legendary coach, even if he's not going to be pacing up and down the sideline. He has that type of influence among the generation that grew up watching him coach MJ to championship after championship. 

It's that type of appeal that is ultimately necessary in a time of uncertainty. 

Jackson is the type of hire that would lead to a more promising era of Laker basketball. And, once more, it doesn't matter what type of role he'd be put into. 

Just that he's there. 


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