The Los Angeles Lakers are one of the premier glamour teams in professional sports.
Yet at times over the past decade, their management has behaved in ways not unlike another big-brand franchise once did. Back in the 1980s, before they started winning titles again, George Steinbrenner's New York Yankees were seemingly in disarray, hiring and firing manager Billy Martin five times in 10 years.
It's clearly not the same situation in Lakerland now, but some of the coaching decisions made by the team in the past decade evoke similar reactions -- ones that occur when an eccentric ownership structure is making the calls.
The decision of the Lakers (specifically owners Dr. Jerry Buss, son Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak) to pass over Phil Jackson in favour of Mike D'Antoni is, from purely a basketball standpoint, not completely crazy.
What's odd is the story that's come out in the past week that describes a situation where the Busses met with Jackson, essentially offered him the job, and then supposedly gave the Zen Master a few days to think about whether he wanted to come out of retirement for a second time.
Yet before Jackson could say "Tex Winter", he says he received a late-night phone call ("rousted from slumber" in his words) from the Lakers informing him that the position had instead been given to D'Antoni
. Public relations nightmare
What has ensued has been a PR nightmare for the Lakers -- the fans wanted Zen back, and because Kupchak opened the door to that possibility at the news conference where Mike Brown's firing was announced, the criticism is deserved. Jackson went on to deny that he wanted concessions to return to coaching, such as trade veto power and the ability to skip some road trips.
Some who cover the Lakers say there is no love lost between Jackson and the junior Buss, although reports indicate it was the senior Buss who ultimately wanted the offensive-minded, "Seven seconds or less" D'Antoni, visions of the Showtime-era Lakers dancing in his 78-year-old head.
To make things even better, Jackson's girlfriend is Jerry's daughter and Jim's sister, Jeannie Buss.
The guy who is getting an unfair rap in all this is D'Antoni. He has the misfortune of a bumbling hierarchy above him, and if he doesn't produce an NBA title now, he's going to be savaged.
As far as the X's and O's go, if you care only about Steve Nash's perspective, then this was the best coaching hire possible. Had Jackson returned, he would have implemented the Triangle offence immediately -- sets that not unlike Mike Brown's Princeton experiment, don't really utilize the skills of a pure point guard. The problem is, Nash is still hurt and out indefinitely. Kobe Bryant has known D'Antoni since he played in the same league as Kobe's dad in Italy in the '80s, so he is on board too.Coach killer
The question is Dwight Howard. Big 'ol coach killer himself may have been the best reason to go with Jackson -- whose skills as an ego manager were a bigger factor than actual coaching in his 11 NBA titles.
However, D'Antoni made Amar'e Stoudemire into the player he became by utilizing him on quick pick-and-rolls from Nash. For Howard and Nash now, this is a no-brainer unless your name is Mike Brown. Howard lacks the outside shooting touch D'Antoni likes from big men, but on the other hand D12 brings something D'Antoni has never really had before: Defence.
How a coach who is historically averse to preaching defence will take advantage of good defenders like Howard and Metta World Peace is unclear, but Ken Berger of CBS reported this week that D'Antoni has reached out to former Blazers coach Nate McMillan -- a defensive specialist who he worked with on Team U.S.A. -- in an effort to get him on board.
As far as the Lakers' weak bench goes, you've got to believe they'll make a trade if they have any visions of a title. Scott Carefoot of RaptorBlog even came up with a hypothetical deal (unlikely but it's fun to dream) that would address that, while freeing the Raptors of the albatross of aggravation that is Andrea Bargnani.
One thing's for certain. The Lakers need to get D'Antoni's system in place and get Nash back. They've been improvising offensively with Bernie Bickerstaff -- unsurprisingly, with Kobe doing all the heavy lifting -- even if they've come out of it with a 2-1 record.
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