The Los Angeles Lakers just balked on Phil Jackson, the guy that got them their last 5 championships. This is equal parts surprising and telltale of the current state of the NBA.
This is a league in which parity is almost non-existent. Everyone knows who the final four teams will be in both conferences. The chances for even young and exciting teams like the Pacers and the Nets are slim in toppling the empires built in Miami, Boston, Los Angeles, and Oklahoma City. LeBron James himself suggested years ago that the league contract teams to make it more competitive. I don’t see David Stern contracting anything before he retires as commissioner, and I don’t see any hand-picked replacement doing that either.
The modern NBA is a league of flash and ultra-dominance. It’s lot of like college basketball in that every night there is likely some horrible matchup somewhere where one team is absolutely destroying another team. The Lakers are certainly primed to start destroying the Western Conference, but it took them a while to figure out that the guy who couldn’t win anything with LeBron wasn’t going to win anything with Kobe, so Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak fired Mike Brown last week and started talking with Phil about the job.
Then, in a move as brash as the move to hire Brown in the first place, top Laker brass passed on Phil and picked former Knicks/Suns coach Mike D’Antoni. In all fairness, D’Antoni’s best years were when he coached Steve Nash on the Suns. But, Phil Jackson is Phil Jackson… there isn’t much to defend the move with. Maybe owner Jerry Buss didn’t want to deal with Jackson? After all, Phil has been dating the owner's daughter for 11 years; maybe he’s just tired of him?
I don’t know what’s going on in Lakerland, but what I see now is a situation where Phil Jackson’s interest in coaching has been piqued once again. Sources close to him confirm that he was shocked when the Lakers called him to tell him they had opted for D’Antoni instead. Down in Miami there is a young coach who oversaw LeBron’s collapse against the Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals, and eventually got his (first) ring last June. He’s learning how to manage the superstar trio of James, Wade, and Bosh, but he is the complete opposite of intrigue, and if/when this team struggles he will be the first one that is blamed.
Pat Riley fired Stan Van Gundy in the middle of the 2005 season and assumed coaching duties to oversee the first championship brought to Miami. Now that Phil is interested in returning to the game Pat Riley might be wise to offer up the job. Of course, he risks losing a situation in which the young Erik Spoelstra could blossom into the type of great coach that Phil blossomed into when he was hired by the up-and-coming Chicago Bulls in 1989.
I was talking to a friend of mine who is a Laker fan and I was trying to explain to him why Mike Brown was poison for the franchise. He didn’t seem to understand (or maybe he didn’t want to), so I framed it by asking him what he would think of this super team if, say, it was coached by Gregg Popovich? His eyes got real big at the notion and just like that, he got it.
There would be no anxiety, no confusion. It would all be replaced by supreme confidence in the fact that the Lakers have the best team they’ve had in years… possibly even decades. Phil Jackson could bring that to the Miami Heat. You know those guys would listen to every word he says. Despite the hype, LeBron really doesn’t have even half the ego that Kobe has, and isn’t likely to battle a proven legend like Phil Jackson the way Kobe did.
Can you imagine the hysteria in Miami? It would be the summer of 2010 all over again. Two ex-Laker coaches coming together to keep the Lakers from winning that elusive 18th title in the twilight of Kobe’s career? It would be the story of the decade; even bigger than LeBron going to the Heat in the first place.
Phil Jackson is officially interested in the responsibility of leading a team to its expected promised land, and if he can’t coach Dwight Howard then certainly the next best option is coaching the greatest player in the world for a third time. Pat Riley has no qualms about making huge moves. So far, Spoelstra is still the type of coach who will please his players even if it costs them wins. That’s what Mike Brown was in Cleveland, and that’s probably a little bit of what was going on in Los Angeles under his tenure.
In all likelihood Jackson will stay away from the game, because he’s the kind of guy who walks into a golden situation, not the guy who builds a team. And, Miami is the only real “golden situation” out there after the Lakers.
Of course, the real tipper here is that Phil Jackson has been slighted by a franchise he returned to greatness. Slighted by his own father-in-law. Phil has a winning personality, and the best way to get back at the callous way he was teased by Los Angeles is by taking his talents to South Beach.