When Mike Brown got fired on Friday, everyone naturally assumed that Phil Jackson would be the one to replace him. It wasn’t because of anything anyone reported. It wasn’t because of the rumors circulating around Los Angeles about Jackson skipping a business presentation to meet with the Buss family. More than any of those things, really, it was just because nobody could believe that a franchise as well-run and stable as the Los Angeles Lakers would dump its coach (five games into the season) without having a backup plan.
So, naturally, when reporters began to say that Jackson’s return was “likely,” and when rumors of him meeting with Jim Buss began to circulate, folks sort of nodded along and waited. The Zen Master would return. He would get the Lakers out of their ridiculous funk. And, as he had done 11 times earlier, he would ultimately take a star-laden, on-the-cusp squad all the way to the promised land.
Given all of those expectations you can imagine the basketball world’s collective shock when, early Monday morning, word broke that Jackson wouldn’t be the coach. And it wasn’t because he didn’t want the position – it was because Jim Buss didn’t want him. Instead, he wanted Mike D’Antoni, a guy whose career winning percentage without Steve Nash is less than 50 percent.
D’Antoni is a good coach, there is no denying that, but he is no Phil Jackson. He’s not even close.
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Which leads us to the obvious question: why would someone who has the opportunity to hire Phil Jackson instead opt to hire Mike D’Antoni? Well, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports delved into that today.
Jackson wanted to humiliate Lakers vice president Jim Buss far more than he wanted to coach the team. He wanted significant allowances on travel, coaching duties and an ability to veto player personnel moves that didn't fit his vision. With an unprecedented 11 coaching championships, Jackson had every right to make unprecedented demands. He doesn't have the right to be surprised when the Lakers rejected them and hired a pliable, cheaper coach in Mike D'Antoni.
"Phil wanted Jim Buss to walk away with his tail between his legs," one source with knowledge of the discussions told Yahoo! Sports. "He thought he had time to still negotiate with them, and see how much they would give him."
Now, the Lakers are going out of their way to spare Jackson the embarrassment of his overreaching, but this is pointless spin. They're working with him to sell the public that he hadn't asked for too much, that somehow the franchise chose D'Antoni over Jackson on sheer merit. It's noble, but laughable. Jackson heard those chants in the Staples Center and never believed the Lakers had the guts to call his bluff before circling back to him on Monday.
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Obviously it’s impossible to verify the validity of someone else’s sources, but Wojnarowski is usually on the mark with this kind of stuff. And it makes sense. All of it. Jackson is the type of person who would walk in and rub Jim Buss’ nose in the fans chanting his name at Staples. He is the type to make ridiculous demands (in large part because he does deserve them). All of that stuff does fit his profile. Along the same lines, the pettiness that one would need to turn down arguably the greatest coach of all time for a slightly above average one, just out of spite, sounds exactly like what Jim Buss has become renowned for in recent years.
It all fits.
At the end of the day, it will be pretty easy to judge who won and who lost this mini duel. If D’Antoni wins a title with this Lakers team, Jim Buss is vindicated. There are no ands, ifs or ors about it. He will be vindicated. However, anything less than a sixth title for Kobe Bryant is something Jim Buss is going to be responsible for, too.
Kobe Bryant’s legacy. Dwight Howard’s future. The esteem in which the Lakers are held. All of those things are contingent on Jim Buss having made the right call Monday.
Here’s hoping he did.
(Kudos Yahoo! Sports)