The Lakers whirlwind search for Mike Brown's successor ended just as unpredictably as it began, when the team named Mike D'Antoni as their new head coach just before midnight on Sunday. Was it the right move?
Just when you thought it couldn't get any weirder.
After Friday morning's whirlwind firing of Mike Brown and Lakers fans chanting "We want Phil!" during Friday night's game against the Golden State Warriors, we headed into the weekend thinking Phil Jackson would probably return to the Lakers' bench to take over the reins of this year's star-studded Lakers team. The Zen Master would return to save the day, right a rudderless Lakers ship and get the franchise and its fans exactly what they expected heading into this season when the franchise went all in and brought Dwight Howard and Steve Nash into the mix.
I mean, that's what he does, right? For Christ's sake, the man ran out of fingers to put rings on when he won his 11th NBA title in 2009-10.
Mike D'Antoni was a possibility to take over as head coach, but not a probability. Oddsmakers be damned.
As the Lakers' coaching search progressed over the weekend and the team began reaching out to Jackson and D'Antoni, those of us who had to be up early Monday morning went to bed on Sunday night thinking the job was Jackson's to turn down. It was a virtual lock, inasmuch as a "95 percent chance" could be.
Monday morning, we woke up to the news that D'Antoni got the gig and Jackson was "shocked" by the news.
What a bizarre weekend.
Jackson had every right to ask for everything under the sun. His track record speaks for itself. By all accounts, the job intrigued him, but it wasn't like he was shaking like a heroin addict in need of his basketball fix. Coaching four future Hall of Famers should have been appealing enough to make anyone jump at the chance to take the job as Lakers head coach, but Jackson wanted more. He wanted significant allowances on travel, coaching duties and was hoping to have more pull in front office decisions. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported that the Zen Master might have overreached because he wanted to stick it to Lakers vice president Jim Buss more than he wanted the job.
D'Antoni, on the other hand, was shocked to hear that he landed a job with a storied franchise that boasts what is arguably the most talented starting five in the NBA. Especially given the Lakers' other option.
"When I got the call that it was me, my first reaction was, ‘Are you serious?'" D'Antoni told Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News.
The former Suns and Knicks head coach wanted the job, was willing to take it at a reasonable rate (a three-year deal worth $12 million with a team option for a fourth year) and he offered the Lakers something that Jackson didn't.
Who's to say the grind of an NBA season and tasks therein wouldn't have had Jackson mulling retirement yet again, even with the concessions the Lakers would have had to make to bring him on board?
Following a lockout-shortened season, and a head coach who tried (and failed) to shove the Princeton offense down his team's throat and lost his job because of it, the thing this team needs most is a rudder. A steadying force. D'Antoni provides that rudder.
But will it work?
I, like you, have no idea. The Seven Seconds or Less offense that D'Antoni excelled with in Phoenix (note: excelled short of an NBA title) worked because Phoenix had the horses to make it work. They had a versatile dynamic slasher in Shawn Marion at his peak, a 30-year-old Steve Nash, an athletic Amare Stoudemire, an explosive Leandro Barbosa, a potent scorer in a free agent year in Joe Johnson, and a solid Quentin Richardson. The Lakers have an aging Kobe Bryant, a 38-year-old Steve Nash, Dwight Howard coming off back surgery, Pau Gasol in decline, and a dismal bench. This team isn't built (just like it wasn't built to run the Princeton) to run-and-gun.
And that Lakers bench. Woe is us, that Lakers bench. That's not something that any coach, be it D'Antoni or Jackson can fix with coaching. Sure it can be assuaged a bit by some creative rotations, but Blake, Duhon, Meeks, Ebanks, and Hill aren't going to become serviceable because a different guy is telling them to hop off the bench and report to the scorers table.
The true test will be whether D'Antoni is willing to adjust his vision to make the most of a Lakers squad whose window of opportunity is shrinking with each day that passes. He put the cart before the horse in New York, and it ultimately cost him his job with the Knicks. Well, that and tension with Carmelo Anthony.
Let's hope D'Antoni introduces a hybrid of pushing the ball up floor and pick and roll offense meshed with a scheme that makes the most of a handful of players who excel with their backs to the basket (Gasol, Bryant, Metta World Peace, and [increasingly so] Howard). And let's hope this Lakers squad dedicates itself to playing defense and taking care of the basketball. If that doesn't happen, it doesn't make a damn bit of difference who is at the helm -- D'Antoni, Jackson, or your freaking mailman.
By ignoring the chants of Lakers fans, Jim Buss made a bold choice*. He put his foot down. Fall short of an NBA title with Phil Jackson, and it's all Phil's fault. Fall short with D'Antoni, and Buss and the Lakers' front office made the wrong move. Buss will have to wear this one if the team isn't hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy this June.
And we'll just have to wait and see.
*One thing is for sure. Jackson won't be bailing the Lakers out if this D'Antoni experiment crashes and burns. Being told you have until Monday to make a decision and getting a phone call to tell you that the "other guy" already got the job wouldn't sit well with even the most Zen of Zen Masters.