LOS ANGELES — The L.A. Times is reporting that former Lakers’ coach Phil Jackson met with team management Saturday, and is reportedly ready to take over the team for a third stint following Friday’s unexpected dismissal of Mike Brown. However, a source close to the Lakers tells FoxSportsWest.com that while Jackson is definitely at the top of the list, there is no guarantee anything will be worked out between the two sides.
Jackson, an 11-time NBA champion as a coach — five with the Lakers — walked away from the team in 2011 following an embarrassing second-round playoff loss to eventual champion Dallas. It appeared Jackson had lost control that season after winning titles the previous two years. Especially if you study the way it ended.
Ex-Laker Andrew Bynum physically leveled tiny JJ Berea, then after being ejected, ripped off his jersey, and chatted with the crowd as he walked bare-chested to the locker room. The bottom line, though, is that the team played with little heart in being swept into vacation by the Mavericks.
If Jackson returns, he will be asked to turn around a team that has played so far mostly in a similar emotional state — and with a 2-4 record.
However, his return is not as assured as some might think. While Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson have gone on the record saying the 67-year-old Jackson is the right man for the job, the former coach himself might not truly believe it.
Rumors circulating throughout the league say that Jackson is asking for total control of the basketball operations department, limited travel with the team, and wants to be paid around $18 million per season. He previously had some $12-million years — including two $1 million bonuses for each championship won. Eighteen million dollars for anyone — even doing both of the jobs — would be considered absurd by many. Probably including Jackson himself — which might be the reason he made such demands.
He also knows that his coaching style would have to change to incorporate the talents of Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Antawn Jamison, players he’s never coached before. Only five members of the current roster — Bryant, Pau Gasol, Steve Blake, Metta World Peace and Devin Ebanks — have played under Jackson’s “triangle offense” and with Nash hurt and the rest of the team unfamiliar — it could take months for the Lakers to be on the same page.
Knowing all this and understanding his chances of winning another title with his style of coaching would be extremely difficult this year, Jackson may be making outrageous demands so he won’t ultimately be given the job. There is one report, however, that says Jackson has already contacted members of his former Laker coaching staff about returning in similar roles. So it could be that he might modify his terms — which logic says are unacceptable to the Lakers’ management.
It would also make Dr. Jerry Buss and son Jim look a bit muddled if they accept Jackson’s contract parameters.
Mitch Kupchak had one of the greatest offseasons of any general manager since his predecessor, Jerry West. Kupchak retooled the team at a time when everyone believed that financially his hands were tied. He talked Nash and Howard into coming to Los Angeles, and he persuaded Jamison to take $1.3 million after making about $15 million in Cleveland last season. And he was able to make all of it happen without giving up one of the game’s premier bigs in Gasol.
A move away from Kupchak and toward Jackson would be a major slap in the face from the Buss family and denigrate the fabulous job Kupchak has done in recent years.
If Jackson stays in retirement, the Lakers are expected to turn to either Mike D’Antoni, Nate McMillan or a long shot in another former Laker head coach, Mike Dunleavy.
In Phoenix, D’Antoni coached Nash in his back-to-back MVP years. He runs an entertaining, energetic offense which is enjoyable to watch, rather than the plodding triangle. McMillan is highly respected throughout the league. Dunleavy took the Lakers to the finals in his first year, 1991. He last coached the Clippers, though, which could hurt him in a final evaluation. It isn’t likely the Lakers would want to hire a coach who last guided their Staples Center rivals.