|Phil Jackson is said to be healthy and interested in returning to the NBA. (US Presswire)|
Only if you're the Lakers can you turn your championship organization over to the bon vivant son of the owner, watch him hire a coach who didn't stand a chance when it came to replacing Phil Jackson, and then have Phil Jackson waiting by the phone when you impetuously fire that coach five games into the season.
If the stars align and the Lakers are able to reunite with Jackson, it will just be another example of just how great it is to be the Lakers.
Squeezing out a sign-and-trade for Steve Nash before the new CBA outlawed such deals for luxury tax-paying teams wasn't enough. Emerging at the 11th hour as the successful suitor for Dwight Howard wasn't enough. Having German medicine perform a minor miracle on Kobe Bryant's knee wasn't enough.
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When you're the Lakers, the rich get richer even when they don't deserve it.
There's only one sensible direction for the Lakers to go now, after taking the ball from Mike Brown Friday and sending him home after five games, after a 1-4 start that started a caterwaul that Brown was never going to calm with anything less than a championship. Jim Buss, who calls the shots for the Lakers now, no longer could see a championship in his crystal ball after being perhaps the only one who caught a glimpse of one when the Lakers hired Brown in the first place.
There's only one thing to do, and that's hire Jackson to come out of semi-retirement, plop back down in his famous high-backed chair on the Lakers' bench, raise his thumb and forefinger to his lips to make a whistling sound, and save the Lakers from themselves. This is what makes me so nervous; the Lakers have made so many poor decisions in the time since Jerry Buss turned the day-to-day decisions over to his son, Jim, what makes anyone think it would be different now? Because they're the Lakers, and good things keep happening to the Lakers despite every effort to avoid them. Jackson didn't just leave after the 2010-11 season; all remnants of his tenure were expunged from the organization, except for the frequent references to Phil-isms by Bryant. If it seems like only a few days ago that Bryant was telling Lakers fans to "shut up," and reminiscing about the days when Jackson would be the one saying that, it's because it was only a few days ago.
The very day before Brown was fired, Jim Buss gave what could've been construed as a vote of confidence in the coach, while also putting him on notice by adding that the slow start meant everyone should "be aware." This was a neat trick, because nobody in the Lakers organization will ever put Jim Buss on notice, or point out his lack of awareness.
Nobody except Phil Jackson, who is said to be healthy and interested in returning to the sideline and has the strong backing of some influential members of the organization, league sources told CBSSports.com Friday.
If the Lakers re-hire Jackson, 67, the only coach who's really capable of replacing Jackson, then it will be a sign that Jim Buss' play date in the driveway on his tricycle is over and it's time for basketball people to make basketball decisions again.
GM Mitch Kupchak did his best to explain the decision to fire Brown after only five games Friday, but alas, he was too good and honest a guy to pull it off. Kupchak went on about how the evaluation of Brown last season was "incomplete," and that it was "unfair" to judge him after one lockout-shortened season marred by the Chris Paul trade that was blocked by the commissioner, thus poisoning Pau Gasol for the year. But if that was unfair, what was five games? Are the Lakers using darts, beer pong contests or a Ouija board to make their decisions?
No NBA coach had been fired after such a short stint since the Buffalo Braves dismissed Dolph Schayes in 1971. There's a reason nobody had done that for 41 years: It reeks of panic. And when NBA players sense panic from above, it's usually lookout below.
There's a long list of qualified coaches who could serve as credible replacements, some of whom were available the last time the Lakers had a vacancy. Mike D'Antoni is an offensive genius whose system and personality would be a perfect fit with Nash. (Plus, Bryant is a huge fan.) Jerry Sloan and Nate McMillan are defensive coaches who would instill some much needed toughness in a team that acted like it could simply coast to the NBA Finals on fumes. Brian Shaw was Bryant's choice -- and Jackson's choice -- to succeed Jackson in the first place, but he's gainfully and happily employed as an assistant with the Pacers.
But when it comes to the skills that are most necessary for the Lakers at the moment -- credibility and gravitas -- none of the above has anything on Jackson.
Jim Buss already has damaged the reputation of one respected NBA coach, Brown, who will go down as the guy who couldn't get out of November with Bryant, Howard and Nash -- even though the record will show that Nash was only around for 1 ½ games. So what would D'Antoni, McMillan, or Shaw want with this? Win a championship (which none has ever done as a head coach before) or look like a failure.
Other than Jackson, Sloan is the only coach available with the resume and devil-may-care attitude to accept such a challenge without regard to legacy or career repercussions. Well, Stan Van Gundy, too, but please. Howard and Van Gundy together again? The basketball column-writing gods would never be so kind.
They were kind enough, however, to position Mark Cuban on the floor at Madison Square Garden Friday night before the 4-1 Mavs played the 3-0 Knicks, hours after Brown had stunningly been fired. It was Cuban, you may recall, who famously said of the Lakers before the season, "I just hope they suck." So it was my duty to ask Cuban what he thought now. You know, now that the Lakers suck.
"Well, I wouldn't say that yet," Cuban said. "It's early. You guys gotta remember, I was there when we were 0-4 and then ended up winning 67 games, being the odds-on favorite and then losing in the first round. I don't take anything after give games, four games or whatever. I don't make any conclusions."
The Lakers obviously did, though.
"Nothing surprises me," Cuban said. "Every team's different. Every team has their own approach. And I just hope it was a huge mistake and they continue to make them."
In their haste to undo one Friday, the Lakers plunged the organization -- and Bryant's chase for that elusive sixth title -- into chaos. There's really only one logical solution, one man with the clout, respect and resume to lead them out of it. There's only one coach who can replace Phil Jackson, and as it turns out, his name is Phil Jackson.
Only the Lakers could be so lucky.