Power Struggle Determined Lakers Coaching Decision
If you follow the Lakers you’ve probably heard every theory about the selection of Mike D’Antoni over Phil Jackson as the team’s new coach. I can simplify the matter for you.
Owner Jerry Buss decided not to remove power from his son, Jim Buss, when Jackson asked for some authority beyond coaching.
I think that’s the whole story – not that Jackson asked for too much money or asked to miss some road trips for health reasons.
Jackson did want a salary in the range of $10 million per season, but that’s merely what he earned in his past. A man with 11 NBA championships deserves more than coaches with less imposing credentials. Judging from the overwhelming support Jackson had from Laker fans and considering the revenue the Lakers would attain from advertising and their new television contract Jackson would have been a bargain.
However, the Lakers said no and proceeded to sign D’Antoni to a three-year contract for $12 million.
But this decision was not about money.
Jerry Buss, one of the great owners in NBA history, advanced in age to the point of having an important discussion with his son about eight years ago.
“Jim,” he said, “the time has come for you to come in and learn about running the franchise.”
Jim Buss had been working in thoroughbred racing.
Jim Buss went on scouting trips with Mitch Kupchak and gained knowledge of how an NBA franchise is run.
From all indications, when Jerry Buss became too ill to attend Laker games a couple of years ago, Jim Buss began running the show.
He had the authority his father gave him but Jim, now a 51-year-old man, did not have the respect of many NBA people who’d had either played, coached or been longtime media members. They felt he didn’t have the necessary background.
It became known that Phil Jackson wasn’t thrilled with the idea of Jim Buss being his boss.
Or as NBA TV analyst Steven A. Smith puts it, Jackson’s thought process about Jim was “I’m not going to work for YOU.”
The previous year Jim Buss, in his first major move as interim owner, had hired Mike Brown as the Lakers’ coach, a move that came as a surprise since several coaches with more NBA head coaching experience were available. Brown didn’t do well enough to last more than one season and five more games this season. So Jim Buss, trying to go in a completely different direction than Phil Jackson, had gotten off to a very poor start.
Now fans were chanting “We want Phil” and Jackson was ready to replace Brown. But it had to be with Jim Buss’ authority being reduced. And Jerry Buss wouldn’t do that.
Now the Lakers have D’Antoni, who had fast-paced, exciting teams in Phoenix. Playing in D’Antoni’s system, which featured a shot every seven seconds, Steve Nash became NBA MVP twice.
Now the Lakers have Nash and they have Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard, all superb players
There will be some Laker games when they rack up points. But right now the remaining personnel isn’t conducive to a succession of those games. The starting five has too much age, the forwards are not outstanding outside shooters and the reserve players are weak.
I believe D’Antoni must alter his offense or the Lakers must make deals at the trading deadline. Most notably, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace are suspect for this offensive plan.
Fans eye Oklahoma City and San Antonio as the Lakers’ most formidable opponents in the Western Conference. But if D’Antoni employs his racehorse offense, the Lakers will have to prove they can finish ahead of several more athletic teams, namely the Clippers, Memphis and Denver. Will the Lakers be battling Dallas for the No. 6 seed at playoff time?
Will they have to wait until next season, when D’Antoni has a training camp to teach his plan and, most likely, some players better suited to his offense are acquired?
Wait until next year? That won’t suit fans who pay high prices at Staples Center. But it’s a possibility.