The Los Angeles Lakers are off to their most tumultuous start since Jimmy Carter was President of the United States. They began their season with one win through five games, which led to the hasty firing of head coach Mike Brown. The team’s management led by Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss then raised the expectations of the Lakers fan base by negotiating with coaching legend Phil Jackson to return as head coach before ultimately deciding to hire former Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni instead of Jackson.
This decision stunned their fan base and Lakers legend Magic Johnson, who stated his feelings on ESPN’s National Basketball Association Countdown show shortly after D’Antoni, was hired. “I don’t believe in Jim Buss, he’s made two critical mistakes already. First hiring Mike Brown, he wasn’t the right coach. And I don’t feel Mike D’Antoni is the right coach for the Lakers. Especially when you have Phil Jackson sitting out there, who wanted to be the Lakers coach.”
At first blush giving the head coaching job to Jackson seems like the smart move to make. He has won eleven championships with rosters that resemble the current Lakers team and his reputation would command the respect of every player on the squad. In all probability Jackson’s leadership would give the Lakers a good chance of winning a NBA championship this season
However, with further analysis there is an understandable reason why the Lakers management would decide not to hire Jackson to coach the Lakers. He has had persistent health issues in recent years that caused him to step away from coaching the Lakers in 2011. During talks between the Lakers and Jackson regarding his returning as head coach this season ESPN reported that one of his demands was to limit his travel to road games, presumably to protect his health.
The issue of Jackson’s on-going health makes it difficult to believe he could be counted on to coach the team beyond this season. The Lakers are a team built to win now, but they are also expected to compete for a championship with this roster for the next two or three seasons. If Lakers management were to hire Jackson, it is possible they could be looking for a new head coach as early as July of 2013. This uncertainty could upset the continuity of the team and undercut its potential.
D’Antoni on the other hand can be counted on to coach the Lakers for the foreseeable future. His long-term health is not in question, which makes it reasonable to expect he will be available to coach the team for the duration of time this roster is together. Furthermore, D’Antoni is respected for his coaching abilities and has proven that with a talented roster he can win with his system. During his last four seasons as head coach of the Phoenix Suns, a team featuring all-stars Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire the team won an average of fifty eight games.
Looking at the situation from this perspective makes it easy to understand why Kupchak and Buss would see D’Antoni as the better choice to coach the Lakers at this point in time. If all the variables were equal Jackson would probably be their first choice to coach the team. However, given the current situation of his health and how that could affect the team going forward a proven head coach like D’Antoni is the smarter choice and gives the Lakers a better chance to win their 17th championship.