The Los Angeles Lakers know how to win championships in the midst of ongoing drama. For three straight seasons, when Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal absolutely despised one another, this team collected rings on a regular basis thanks to everyone’s ability to perform on the court despite all of the soap opera-like entertainment going on off of it. Of course, it helped that at the time the Lakers had a head coach who knew how to balance nonsensical drama and on the court production. That coach was a proven winner, and someone who everyone -- regardless of whether they loved or hated him -- respected.
Phil Jackson was that coach.
In the here and now, L.A. finds itself once again embroiled in a deliciously titrating drama while knee deep in a title chase. The problem is, this time, Phil Jackson isn’t around to balance out the noise – he is part of the reason there is noise in the first place.
Unless you have been living in a cave over the past week, you are no doubt well aware of the latest crazy happenings in Laker Land. Mike Brown was fired. Phil Jackson was rumored to be his replacement. At the last second, for whatever reason, Mike D’Antoni was the one who ultimately got the job. All of that is a matter of public record. What is in dispute right now, however, what is stirring up all of the unnecessary drama, is why and how D’Antoni (a fine coach, in his own right) got the nod over arguably the greatest head coach in NBA history.
In order to really wrap your mind around how truly conflicting the stories from all these different camps are, let’s turn our attention to a couple of really trusted NBA writers. First, here is Adrian Wojnarowski’s take on recent events:
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.
Now, Kevin Ding’s:
Everyone can go ahead and imagine it was just Jackson's ego getting the best of him, except he also knows people who know people, if you know what I mean – and the message via that direct organizational channel was also that he was the Lakers' first choice…In piecing the details back together as best we can, there is no indication from either side that Jackson made the outlandish demands that appeared in media reports Sunday. Jackson ignored the reports because he figured the truth was that the negotiations were in reality going well…There was some talk about Jackson's disdain for travel, yes, but nothing concrete. They went through the roster together, but Jackson didn't demand personnel power over Kupchak's head. There was no equity stake in the franchise…Jim Buss brought up the Lakers' diminished spending power these days in light of the new collective bargaining agreement and revenue sharing, and Jackson actually hinted that he'd take less money this time by saying broadly: "This is not gonna be about money."
Is that amazing or what? They are talking about the exact same series of events, and yet the stories are completely different. Well, scratch that – the stories are not completely different. The stories are the same, because the eventual course of action remains the same in both cases. What is different is the way each side perceives the other. The way each side, hilariously, thinks the other screwed it.
What is the truth? We will probably never know. Jackson isn't exactly a poor, innocent, ego-less character who is blissfully unaware of how Jim Buss feels about him. He just isn’t. Similarly, Jim Buss isn’t so big and so devoted to the Lakers organization that he would sacrifice his pride for the greater good of the franchise. He has proven, repeatedly, that the opposite is in fact true.
The truth is something in between what each respective camp is peddling. But it’s probably a safe bet that the loyalists from both sides will never actually acknowledge that.