After offseason pickups of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, the already-talented Los Angeles Lakers were expected to compete with the Miami Heat and others as a championship contender. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol already led a franchise that has won five championships since 2000. Make no mistake, these Lakers may still make noise during the 2012-2013 season, but its beginnings have not been rosy.
Earlier this week, the Lakers revealed just how short of a leash former head coach Mike Brown had, firing him after a 1-4 start. That decision in and of itself seems questionable enough, considering even the Heat did not win a championship during their first season with Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. Cultivating teamwork among big names and egos takes time, even in our results-now culture.
But if Brown really was the wrong guy for the job, the Lakers have only themselves to blame for the fiasco they’ve created as an organisation. Brown was an interesting hire back in May of 2011 when they signed him to a four-year, $18 million dollar deal. He’d certainly won his share of games coming in, but his biggest professional achievement had been taking a Lebron-James-led Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in 2007, a series in which they got swept by the San Antonio Spurs.
During Brown’s only full season as the Laker’s head coach, they finished 41-25 during a strike-shortened season. In the second round of the playoffs, the Oklahoma City Thunder bounced the Lakers, 4-1.
It’s worth mentioning that the Lakers went 2-0 with interim head coach Bernie Bickerstaff. But then came the most interesting part of this story: the Lakers’ decision to hire Mike D’Antoni instead of NBA and Lakers’ legend, Phil Jackson. Jackson, who was contemplating coming out of retirement, was reportedly “stunned” by the Lakers’ decision to go with D’Antoni.
He thought the job had been his if he wanted it, and who could blame him? Known as “the Zen Master” for his unorthodox methods, Jackson has won six championships with the Chicago Bulls and five with the Lakers. If you can get Jackson, why do you select anyone else? There is no one comparable to him in the league or anywhere else.
This is not a knock on D’Antoni, who had plenty of success with Nash in Phoenix. But let’s be honest, Nash of 2012 is not the same as Nash of 2007. Not to mention, D’Antoni has never won a championship, and his stint in New York was nothing to write home about.
So why did the Lakers choose D’Antoni? It’s a good question with an answer I can’t quite pinpoint. According to ESPN, “Jackson’s triangle offense was seen as a benefit for Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol but not as conducive to the rest of the players on the roster — namely point guard Steve Nash and center Dwight Howard.”
But something about the explanation doesn’t quite add up. Jackson has experience managing the diverse personalities of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Shaquille O’Neal, Gasol, and yes, Bryant, who is–it’s worth mentioning–still the most important player on the Lakers. You’re telling me he couldn’t adapt his tactics to Nash and Howard? Come on, he’s been around the block a few times.
With Jackson, there’s little doubt in my mind that they would have seriously contended this season. With D’Antoni, they may still make the playoffs, but I bet they’ll be an early exit.