Would Phil Jackson Have Fixed the Los Angeles Lakers?

Howard Ruben@howardrubenContributor IMarch 29, 2014

Phil Jackson smiles as he is introduced as the new president of the New York Knicks, Tuesday, March 18, 2014 in New York. Jackson, who won two NBA titles as a player with the Knicks, also won 11 championships while coaching the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Mark Lennihan

Phil Jackson is not a miracle worker. He just plays one on TV when acting out his role as head coach and winner of 13 NBA Championship rings (two as a player, 11 as a coach).

Jackson is being asked to perform his biggest miracle yet: resurrect the perennially horrible New York Knicks and transform this once-proud franchise into a championship contender. The Knicks last won a title in 1973 when Jackson, 68, was a player on the team.

It's a tall order, even for the "Zen Master."  The only guarantee from his hiring is that Jackson will have an immediate positive effect on the culture of the Knicks.  That's been missing for many, many years.

A nagging question, at least among the Lakers' faithful, is could Jackson have fixed the Lakers had he been asked to by management?

That call never came, and so, we'll never know for sure.  But, for those who bleed purple and gold, it's impossible not to imagine 'what if'?

When one considers that Laker players have collectively missed about 250 games due to injury this year, per ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin being interviewed on ESPN710 radio, it seems highly unlikely that anyone could have steadied this sinking ship.

But Jackson is not just anybody.  While he wouldn't have directed this year's version of the Lakers to a deep playoff run, his mere presence in the front office would have served to continue the winning culture that has long been part of the team since moving to Los Angeles in 1960.

Kobe Bryant is not happy with Lakers' decision to not offer Phil Jackson a job.
Kobe Bryant is not happy with Lakers' decision to not offer Phil Jackson a job.Tony Gutierrez

It's not as if the Lakers haven't tried to retool and rebuild while Kobe Bryant continues to age and rehabilitate. 

Executives Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss just never felt that Jackson should be part of that, even though he'd led them to five NBA Championships as coach and has a career winning percentage of .704 in the regular season and .688 in the playoffs.  In 20 years of coaching, Jackson's teams have never finished below .500.

Hiring Jackson in a senior management capacity seemed so logical this year as the Lakers struggled.  L.A. will probably finish the year with their worst season since coming to California from Minneapolis. 

Via Lee Jenkins (SI.com):

Jackson was their insurance policy, resting comfortably in Playa Del Rey, waiting for the day that Jim Buss inevitably realized the family business needed more wattage.

Jackson would do the job better for the Lakers -- because he is less than three years removed from the organization, because he lives close to the headquarters, and because he already injected the triangle offense into the club's DNA -- than he will for the Knicks from 3,000 miles away.

Jackson was the Lakers' best hope for a quick fix, only accomplished through a free-agent bonanza, and now they must embark on the same rebuilding slog as everybody else.

If Jackson had been rehired to coach the team in 2012, when he wanted the job, there is a good chance the player mix this season would have included Dwight Howard

Per Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News:

Laker fans know who Jim Buss is and they’re not very happy that he didn’t bring Jackson back into the fold.  Jackson had been thinking that he’d be able to get at least a consulting gig, at $2 million per, with his old team. 

"No, they have their directive, they know which way they’re going to go,’’ he said last week. “I talked with the (Laker) people last year toward the end of the Dwight Howard campaign, trying to help them bridge the gap with Dwight in that situation."

Had Howard stayed in L.A., Jackson and the Lakers would probably have managed to sign a couple of solid free agents for minimum contracts just because they saw the opportunity to win a ring here playing alongside one of the premier centers in the game.

Of course, Jackson the miracle worker could not have prevented Bryant or Steve Nash from sustaining injuries that basically wiped out the entire season for both superstars.  You don't just lose career marks of 25.5 points (Bryant) and 14 points/nine assists (Nash) per game and expect to be the same. 

But, what Jackson brings to any organization is an intangible that nourishes team confidence.  It's a form of chemistry for winning that has permeated his career, first as a player with the Knicks and then as the most successful NBA coach in history.

Players want to play for Jackson, whether it was in Chicago or Los Angeles.  And they will want to come play for the Knicks because of him and the aura he brings.

The Lakers don't have that aura.  Jackson did, but that ship has sailed. Per Lee Jenkins from SI.com:

Part of what separated the Lakers over the past three decades is they had the most faces. It wasn't just a coach, an exec or an owner, but all of the above, and so many more: from Riley to Phil, Magic to Shaq, Jerry West to Jerry Buss, with Chick Hearn on the soundtrack. They're all gone.

It was bad enough losing Pat Riley to the Knicks and Miami Heat.  Jerry West consults for the Golden State Warriors, and Magic Johnson sold his shares in the Lakers and runs the L.A. Dodgers.  With Dr. Jerry Buss gone and Jackson off to New York, the Lakers lack that presence.

It's ironic that Jackson and fiancee Jeanie Buss are running two separate franchises on opposite coasts.  They'll be vying for the same free agents this summer and next as both teams look to restore the luster their fans long for.

Phil Jackson was, is and always will be associated with winning.  He'll do it in New York if Knicks owner Jim Dolan keeps his promise to not mettle anymore in basketball affairs.  That's a big promise.

The Lakers will be back sooner than later but not with Jackson at the helm.  They have to move on from this season's embarrassing disaster and take immediate steps to rectify both the coaching and player rosters.  And there's already debate on how best to go about it.

As Bryant told ESPN'S Darren Rovell (via Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com), he doesn't want a two-year plan because time is not on his side.  

This organization is just not going to go [down].  It's not going to take a nose dive.  But I think we need to accelerate it a little bit for selfish reasons, because I want to win and I want to win next season.  So, it's kind of getting them going now as opposed to two years from now.


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