L.A. Lakers Fall Should Be Blamed on Jim Buss and Grudge Against Phil Jackson

William Van NollFeatured ColumnistNovember 2, 2011

BOSTON - JUNE 05:  Head coach Phil Jackson of the Los Angeles Lakers answers questions during the post-game news conference after losing to the Boston Celtics 98-88 in Game One of the 2008 NBA Finals on June 5, 2008 at TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. 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 Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Former Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw recently sat down with Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen to reveal behind-the-scene details of his fallout with the Lakers this offseason

As with most dealings concerning Lakers management, details are sparse.

But Shaw's candid remarks provide a glimpse into the objectives of Lakers management and how dearly Lakers apprentice overseer Jim Buss wanted to run 11-time NBA Champion head coach Phil Jackson out of town.

Jackson's retirement was decided well before the Lakers' embarrassing exit from the 2011 NBA Playoffs. As Jackson's potential replacement, Shaw was slotted to interview for the position.

In confidence, Jackson told Shaw that his only shot at getting the new head coaching gig was to completely abandon his relationship with him.

In Shaw's words:

"Phil let me know going into the interview [with the Lakers] for me to almost disassociate myself from him, that anything that I said about him or the triangle system would hurt me because of his lack of relationship with Jimmy Buss."

And when it came time for Shaw to interview for the position at the Buss residence in front of Dr. Jerry Buss, Jim Buss and Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak, true colors were shown.

Recalls Shaw:

"There were some things that were said that I won't really get into... It was kind of bashing Phil Jackson... The negativity toward Phil didn't come from Mitch... It was more from Jimmy Buss just doubting some of the decisions he made in terms of how he was handling and running the team and coaching the team on the sidelines, and sitting down instead of getting up."

Jim Buss had an obvious disdain for Jackson's coaching approach and he seemed dead-set on washing the Lakers completely clean of his influence.

As it were, Shaw—a Phil Jackson coaching disciple—didn't stand a chance. 

It's odd that Jim Buss, who enjoyed five NBA championships under the coaching services of Jackson and his triangle offense, would want to now control the Zen Master's ways and abandon this proven recipe for success.

But Jim's power-grab backfired when Jackson refused to be controlled by the Lakers' new chief decision-maker and decided to leave town for the mountains of Montana at season's end.

Jackson gave up on the Lakers and, as was clear from the 0-4 sweep by the Dallas Mavericks, so did his team.

Why did Phil leave? Was he feeling burned out? Was it the inability to compete in the West? Was it the lack of talent on the roster?

Likely not.

Why would Jackson leave his $10 million a year salary, the highest in the league? Why would he leave his girlfriend, VP of Lakers Business Operations Jeanie Buss? Why would he abandon the same Lakers roster only one year removed from back-to-back championships?

EL SEGUNDO, CA - MAY 31:  Jim Buss, executive vice president of basketball operations of the Los Angeles Lakers, stands in front of a large screen showing names of basketbaall players from variuos NBA teams, in general manager Mitch Kupchak's office befor
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

It had to be Jim Buss.

To be fair, the Zen Master is no saint, either. In his autobiography, former Lakers general manager Jerry West recalls Jackson being cold and aloof during their encounters in the hallways of the Lakers' castle.

Regardless, the grudge between Jim Buss and Phil Jackson ultimately came to a head last season and with his foot firm on the gas pedal and hands at the control deck, Jim Buss steered his ship as far away from Phil Jackson as possible.

When Phil mentally checked out towards the end of last season, the Lakers' chances at a three-peat checked out with him. 

Rest assured—Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and the Lake Show will be back.

But the Lakers' downfall on the court can surely be traced to this behind-the-curtains rift between the Lakers incumbent owner and the all-time Lakers winningest coach—a rift so large that rather than fight the forces of management for his own fortune, Jackson chose to retire from the profession and leave his decade-long foundation as the Lakers' skipper to unwind at the hands of Jim Buss' chosen successor.

Jim Buss ultimately got his wish, but his future success will inevitably be measured against that of the man he removed from the castle on his way towards complete control of the Lakers organization.


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