Life After Phil Jackson: Will Jerry Sloan Return for a Chance to Win a Title?
Life is great on Figueroa Street right now. The Lakers are 15-1 since the All-Star break and find themselves four games behind the West-leading San Antonio Spurs for first place. Kobe Bryant is playing like the Kobe of old, Lamar and Artest are contributing in huge ways, and Laker bigs Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum are imposing their will on every power forward or center they play against.
Phil Jackson is content. He knows his team is ready for another championship run. They are the hottest and one of the most experienced teams. He's been here before and it won't shock the world if he walks away with his 12th ring in late June.
Phil will most likely call it a career after. Saying he had an unbelievable career would be an understatement. He'll walk away with 11 or 12 championships. Either way, impressive.
But and then what for the Lakers?
Rumors are swirling that Brian Shaw will be promoted from within. His knowledge of the triangle offense and familiarity with the team is a huge advantage. But will his inexperience be a burden for him when dealing with alpha males? Who knows how Shaw would have dealt with the team when they were having their mid-season struggles. It's those type of things that Phil best dealt with that made him a legend.
How about Coach K? He has plenty of experience and would probably love the opportunity for a new challenge if given the right amount of money to leave Duke. He has said that he has considered the Lakers job in the past. However, do the Lakers want to take a risk with a college coach? Rick Pitino was a college legend and he didn't work out in the NBA.
Dig deeper and you find Jerry Sloan, a man nobody ever talks about returning to coach. He undoubtedly has the experience to lead a team to the Finals. He has done so twice, and if it weren't for a guy named Jordan he would probably have two titles. But he has none. And this is a problem for his legacy. He's a legendary coach with no titles. He knows the Lakers will be very competitive next year and the years after. Sloan still has a few years left in him. He's had half of this year off to rest and recuperate. Why not?
It's a win-win-win for the Lakers, Phil and Jerry.
The Lakers would get an unbelievably experienced head coach who has dealt with alpha males like Karl Malone and John Stockton in their heyday. He has dealt with stars and has led great teams. He has consistently put great teams on the court even after Malone and Stockton retired.
This is a very difficult task to do in a market like Salt Lake City. It's not the most appealing place to play, yet Sloan has delivered year after year. Also, players like Kobe Bryant understand that Sloan hasn't won a ring. This is extra motivation for them to play hard and deliver for their head coach.
For Phil, he'll know that the Lakers are in great hands. He won't feel like he abandoned the team, although he owes the Lakers nothing. But if Brian Shaw takes over and the Lakers struggle, everyone knows the LA media will be telling Jeannie Buss to convince Phil Jackson to return.
Who will coach the Lakers next season?
It's very imaginable. Lakers lose their third consecutive game and the topic on Mason and Ireland is whether the Lakers should bring back Phil for the second part of the season. With Sloan, none of that will happen because of his experience. He's a legend without any rings.
Finally for Jerry Sloan, it's obvious. He inherits an unbelievable team with numerous star players. He gets a team better than any team that he ever had in Utah. When he was with Utah, he fell to the Lakers for three straight seasons. If you can't beat them, join them. Sloan won't have to deal with headaches like Deron Williams because Kobe and Fisher are in charge of an organized bunch and won't let something like that happen.
Jerry Sloan deserves to coach the Lakers. He deserves the opportunity to win a ring. It seems like there came a point for Sloan, especially after Carlos Boozer left, where he felt like it wasn't going to happen. Perhaps his resignation from the Jazz was a result from his loss of passion for the game. But on a team like the Lakers, won't that passion instantaneously return?
The challenge of coaching the greatest team of the last several years to a championship. The challenge to finally obtain the coveted Larry O'Brien trophy and seal his legacy.
Sure, he will always be a Utah Jazz at heart. The fine folks at Salt Lake surely understand his position. He wasn't going to win in Utah any time soon. But will going to rival LA tarnish his Jazz legacy in the fans point of view?
We've seen situations like this happen many times in sports, like when Ray Bourque went to the Colorado Avalanche to win a Stanley Cup. Bruins fan cheered for him. But would they have cheered for him if he went to the Montreal Canadiens, the Bruins' main rival?
Fact of the matter is, none of that matters. Sloan owes nothing to the Jazz. He devoted 22 years of his life to them and made them relevant and competitive. He deserves the opportunity to go after what he wants.
Surprisingly, the thought of Sloan with the Lakers hasn't came up as much as Coach K or Brian Shaw going to the Lakers. But it makes sense on so many grounds. He is the best option for the Lakers.
You don't replace a legend with his student. You replace a legend with another legend.
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