LOS ANGELES — Welcome to Lakerland, where the working motto is now: another day, another bombshell.
Just when it seemed inevitable that Phil Jackson would ride to the rescue after the Lakers shocked the NBA by firing Mike Brown five games into the season, they pulled an even more astonishing move late Sunday night by hiring Mike D’Antoni as coach.
The deal, for three years and $12 million with a team option for a fourth year, was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.
In any another instance, bringing in D’Antoni, one of the NBA’s sharpest offensive minds, to team with Steve Nash and the rest of the Lakers’ A-listers, would have been a great coup three weeks into the season when so few top coaches are on the market.
But coming as it did — with Kobe Bryant giddy about the prospects of being reunited with Jackson and Staples Center fans breaking into “We Want Phil” chants during Sunday night’s 103-90 victory over Sacramento — this will not go over well.
Nor should it.
If the deal fell apart because the Lakers would not meet Jackson’s demands, be it more money (a reported $10-12 million per season) or more authority in personnel matters, then both sides screwed this up.
Jackson, who waited a year to become the Lakers coach in 1999 because they would not meet his price, might have walked into another team that was equipped to win a championship, just as he had previously in Chicago and Los Angeles. And if he really did want to coach again, returning to the Lakers would not have required him to move — he lives a 10-minute drive from the team’s offices.
But the Lakers will pay a heavier toll. They are already on the hook for $13 million to Brown — they’ll be paying D’Antoni less — and now they will find out just how much it will cost them not to have hired Jackson.
The Lakers have a rich new television contract with Time Warner and short of insisting they re-sign Derek Fisher, what could be so egregious about having a say in personnel?
For a franchise that is about being all-in to win a championship — the Lakers customarily have the league’s highest payroll — the notion that they did not want to open up the coffers (or hand over the reins) for Jackson will have an immediate effect.
It means D’Antoni’s honeymoon should last all the way until . . . the Lakers lose a game.
Kobe Bryant said he would approve of D’Antoni’s hiring — he worked with him during the last two Olympics — but it was clear the way he gushed over Jackson, calling him “a genius,” where his preference lie. It will also put to the test an assertion Bryant made Sunday after the victory over the Kings.
“Nothing concerns me about this organization,” Bryant said when asked about the coaching search. “They always seem to make the right decision.”
D’Antoni was brilliant in Phoenix, where he coached Nash to two MVP awards, and his up-tempo offense heavily influenced the rest of the league. In New York, after a rebuilding effort seemed to be headed in the right direction, the Knicks dealt for Carmelo Anthony who never respected D’Antoni’s point guard-centric system enough to play defense for him. He resigned midway through last season.
“Obviously, I think everyone knows how much I love Mike,” Nash said. “If he were the coach, it would be seamless and terrific for me, and I think the team as well.”
Nash spoke earlier Sunday evening, when the prospect of Jackson not being coach seemed unlikely to him, to the crowd, or to anyone else who believed in the Lakers capacity for theater.
Now that D’Antoni is the coach, the Lakers had better hope their point guard is right.