Residents of the “City Of Angels” have noticed a new odor in the air, over the past few days; adding to the stench of the smog, gasoline and diesel fumes that always permeate the city. The scent is desperation, emanating from the Staples Center; more precisely the Los Angeles Lakers organization; normally one of the most stable operations in all of sports.
Just five games into the young NBA campaign, the Lakers dismissed head coach Mike Brown, in his second year with the team; after coming out of the chute with a record of 1-4. The fact that Los Angeles would make the move after just five games; shows just how big a mistake it was for the club to bring back Brown for a second season; instead of causing needless embarrassment for a class guy like Mike Brown, as well as the franchise.
The move rocked the NBA, for two reasons; the first that it happened so quickly; the second, because the decision was so atypical for the Lakers, one of the most stable and widely admired teams in all of professional sports. Most likely the reason was so far from the team’s norm; because it was not a decision made by General Manager Mitch Kupchak. Although Kupchak did probably have to dismiss Brown; it does not ring true to character, that the choice was his. The decision to fire the coach of team was probably made by Vice President Jim Buss, the man who hired Brown to replace Phil Jackson in the Summer of 2011.
While Jackson was going through what seemed like his farewell tour of the Association, during the 2010-2011 campaign; conventional thought at the time, was that Los Angeles assistant Brian Shaw, would take the wheel of the ship the following season. The former popular guard for the Lakers; had been by Jackson’s side for a while as his assistant; even All-Star guard and team leader Kobe Bryant had endorsed Shaw. Buss though, had different ideas about which way the franchise should head in however, as it became apparent after the club lost early in the Post Season.
Buss, the son of Lakers Owner Jerry Buss, has become quite active in the running of the club over the past few seasons and took the lead role in determining whom the next coach should be. Jim, was not sold on Shaw; probably because he had disdain for Jackson, as well as Shaw’s lack of experience as a head coach, at any level. Buss thought the team needed somebody with a proven resume and a history of success in the Association and believed he had the guy he wanted in Brown, recently released by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Brown had led the team to the best record in the regular season, his last two years in Cleveland, however that did not stop Cavaliers Owner Dan Gilbert from firing his coach; in an ill-fated attempt to convince LeBron James to remain with the franchise.
If the marriage between Brown and the Lakers had any chance in succeeding; it was probably damaged beyond repair, by the clumsy way that Jim Buss handled the hiring. He had no contact at all with Bryant on the decision; a serious miscue, that most likely Bryant has yet to recover from. Kobe had led the squad to three straight trips to the NBA Finals, including back-to-back Championships and his nose got out of joint, about not being included in the discussion.
Buss also lacked the professionalism to call Shaw or his agent, to tell them the team decided to go in a different direction. Shaw heard the news just like NBA fans, on a newscast. Needless to say that move went over like a lead balloon with the players and the former longtime member of the Lakers. He would go to the Indiana Pacers as associate head coach, where he currently remains.
Los Angeles wants to hire a permanent head coach as quickly as they possibly can; they reportedly have spoken with a former coach of the club Mike Dunleavy and Mike D’Antoni’s name has been mentioned prominently, due to his long-term relationship with point guard Steve Nash, when they were both with the Phoenix Suns. Former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan’s name has also been bandied about, although it is doubtful that Sloan would end his NBA retirement to head into all that drama.
According to the “Los Angeles Times” the team has made a full-court press to try to get Jackson to return to the franchise for his third tour of duty. The paper’s sources state that if the former Lakers bench boss wants to come back, the job is his; however it would not be a conventional coaching contract. The word is that if Jackson were to come back, it would be without him on the bench for a lot of the team’s road-games; possibly all of them, but at least we realize he will not be heading to Charlotte or Toronto. Would a part-time Phil, be a help or a hinderance to the team evolving? How would the team react to having “Coach Zen” at home and possibly current assistant Bernie Bickerstaff on the road? That could be the possibility of a disaster in the making; however, with an extra move it could prove to be the solution to the Lakers short-term and long-term concerns.
What if Los Angeles were to bring back Jackson and Shaw for this season, with Jackson being the bench boss for the balance of this campaign, while Shaw is already signed to become the new head coach at the start of next season? Phil would spend this season, being in charge while truly taking a mentor role with Shaw; while it could be a finishing school for Shaw, to eliminate any concerns about his lack of a head coaching resume. Shaw would be the man in charge, on the road games that Jackson decides to refrain from; and they could work together closely to make sure the message remains consistent, whom ever is calling the shots.
The move at most might cost the team a couple of future second round NBA Draft picks, not a high price for rectifying a mistake as well as possibly putting the Lakers back on the right path for the long-term. Rather than settling for someone off of the usual coaching carousel, the Lakers could think “Outside The Box” which could put the club back on the road to more NBA Finals and Championships.