By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst
Posted Nov 9, 2012 11:28 PM - Updated Nov 10, 2012 2:59 AM
After initially resisting the idea of reaching out again to former coach Phil Jackson to once again come to their rescue, the Los Angeles Lakers have changed course. The team now plans to look at Jackson and former Suns and Knicks head coach Mike D'Antoni for their vacant head coaching position, according to league sources.
The Lakers fired Mike Brown Friday morning after getting off to a 1-4 start, and announced they would begin a "nationwide" search for a new coach. Early Friday afternoon, the team informed people that Jackson, whose 11 championships as a coach are the most in league history, was not going to be considered for the job. But the team has changed gears and now plans to seriously consider bringing back Jackson, who won five titles in two stints as the Lakers coach before once again retiring following the 2010-11 season, when L.A. was unceremoniously swept by the Mavericks in the second round of the playoffs.
"I know they're trying to get Phil [Jackson] like crazy," said a source with knowledge of the team's thinking.
Former Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw could also be in the mix, according to league sources, but is believed to be below Jackson and D'Antoni on the team's wish list. Shaw, currently the Pacers' assistant head coach, is well-respected around the league. He interviewed for the Orlando Magic job this summer before the Magic chose Spurs assistant Jacque Vaughn as their coach.
Jackson took last season off and addressed some long-standing health issues, including having his left knee replaced last March. Last June, Jackson was looking for a "hybrid" management role that would make him the head of basketball operations for an organization and give him authority to pick a coach who would commit to running the triangle offense Jackson has used in Chicago and Los Angeles, his longtime agents Todd and Brian Musburger said then. At that time, the Musburgers said, Jackson was not interested in coaching again and wanted to play a "consigliere" role for a coach the way his longtime assistant, Tex Winter, performed that task for him on the bench.
"Phil would be very comfortable if he never returns to the NBA," Todd Musburger said at the time. "But I think he would be very comfortable returning. There's a lot of frustration when you're sitting in your living room and watching a team try to defend a screen and roll, and you can't put your hands on an organization."
Said Brian Musburger in June: "He gets frustrated this time of year." He added that Jackson would like to be involved with a coaching staff not to interfere, but to act as a mentor.
However, the pull of coming back to the Lakers -- and to Los Angeles, where Jeanne Buss, the Lakers' executive vice president and Jackson's longtime partner, still lives and works -- could be overwhelming.
If the Lakers opt for Jackson, though, the price will be considerable.
Jackson's original deal with the Lakers, in 1999, was for five years and $30 million. He then got a three-year, $30 million deal upon returning to the team in 2005, after a one-year sabbatical following his mutually-agreed-upon departure from the team. A two-year extension worth $24 million followed, and Jackson still was making $10 million in his last season coaching. For the Lakers to bring him back a third time would likely mean a salary in excess of the $12 million he got in 2009.
The Lakers are flush with new money after agreeing to a 20-year, $3 billion deal with Time Warner Cable to broadcast their games. But the team's payroll will skyrocket when and if it re-signs center Dwight Howard; the L.A. Times estimated a combined salary and luxury tax payment of $195 million for the 2013-14 season if Howard gets a max deal next summer. The Lakers are also expected to be major contributors to an enhanced revenue-sharing system that will funnel money from the league's most successful teams to those that are struggling financially. But reducing coaching salaries as well as player salaries has been a priority for the league in the last few years; Boston's Doc Rivers, at $7 million a year, is currently the NBA's highest-paid coach.
The decision to once again consider Jackson would likely mean the final decision on the new coach will reside with owner Jerry Buss rather than his son, Jim, the team's executive vice president. Jim Buss has gradually assumed control of the team's on-court basketball decision making over the past few years, with Jeanne Buss continuing to run the business side. It was Jim Buss that chose Brown over Jackson's and Bryant's preferred successor, Shaw, in the summer of 2011. Bryant was not consulted before Jim Buss hired Brown. And, over the past two years, the Lakers purged almost everyone that had had any association with Jackson, including athletic trainer Chip Schaefer, longtime equipment manager Rudy Garciduenas and athletic performance coordinator Alex McKechnie. Assistant general manager Ronnie Lester, who'd worked side by side with Kupchak for more than a decade, also was let go in 2011 after 24 years with the team.
But Jim Buss did give the okay to the four-team deal that brought Howard to the Lakers in August, even though it meant L.A. had to part with center Andrew Bynum, whom Buss had championed through several seasons after the team took Bynum with the 10th pick of the 2005 Draft. Bynum was sent to Philadelphia as part of the trade, and has yet to play with the 76ers after getting offseason treatment on his balky knees.
Ironically, like Jackson, D'Antoni also had knee replacement surgery late last month. While he is expected to be on crutches for a few weeks, the surgery has no long-term implications. D'Antoni resigned as the Knicks' coach in March, after clashing with star Carmelo Anthony. New York failed to make the playoffs in D'Antoni's first two seasons there, but he underwent a Renaissance last winter when unheralded guard Jeremy Lin sparked a winning streak that brought the term "Linsanity" into the sports lexicon. With Lin on the ball, and Anthony injured, New York played the freewheeling, ball-moving style that D'Antoni's Phoenix teams played. But Anthony's return and a knee injury to Lin ended the improved chemistry. When the Knicks refused to consider trading Anthony in the spring, according to a source, D'Antoni decided to step down. New York then went on a roll under new coach Mike Woodson, making the playoffs.
D'Antoni has a solid relationship with Bryant, having been an assistant coach on the U.S. men's gold-medal winning Olympic teams in 2008 and 2012. He was not planning to coach this season, but the sudden opening of the Lakers' job Friday got his interest. Even though D'Antoni struggled in Phoenix to find a suitable backup for Nash and usually went with a short playing rotation -- something that would not work with this older Lakers team, which needs to extend its bench and get improved play from the reserves -- D'Antoni would have no reservations about coaching them.
"The lure of coaching with Steve Nash again, it's pretty compelling," said a source with knowledge of D'Antoni's thinking.
Brown's camp believes that the decision to fire him was made solely by Jerry Buss and not by Jim Buss or with any input from Bryant. The Lakers' star had steadfastly maintained his loyalty to Brown throughout the team's rough start, which culminated in a loss to the Jazz in Salt Lake City Wednesday to make the team 1-4 with a sole win over Detroit. That followed an 0-8 preseason in which injuries and poor play caused a near-panic among Lakers fans who expected the team to contend this season for a championship. Assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff was named interim coach.
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