Were the Los Angeles Lakers Right to Pass on Phil Jackson?

By Brendan Patel
Jayne Kamin-Oncea - USA TODAY Sports
Jayne Kamin-Oncea – USA TODAY Sports

Coaching legend Phil Jackson is set to become the president of the New York Knicks, an organization that he spent time with as a player. The Knicks have struggled this year, even with a talented roster, and are fighting just to make the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference. Their hope is that Jackson will provide stability and experience to a front office that has struggled with free agents and trades for the past decade. But Jackson has a deep relationship with the Los Angeles Lakers, including Jeanie Buss, and one must think, would he have had success in Los Angeles?

The Lakers passed on Jackson last season in favor of Mike D’Antoni, who was said to have a more entertaining style of basketball suited for Los Angeles. Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak felt that D’Antoni would help bring “Showtime” back to the Lakers’ brand, but also that Jackson’s requirements were too high at the time. Jackson was not pleased with the way the situation was handled, especially the lack of communication. Jim Buss and Jackson have yet to repair their relationship, which is a big reason why Jackson would not work well with the current management of the Lakers.

Jackson wants power and the ultimate say when it comes to basketball personnel. With all his experience, there is no doubt that he has the knowledge and ability to make great decisions. But Kupchak has arguably been one of the best general managers in the NBA the past decade. He was one of the first GMs to take advantage of a “salary dump” and turned spare parts and youth into Pau Gasol (although Marc Gasol did turn out to be a pretty good player). He made trades for Dwight Howard and Steve Nash without giving up the team’s two best players, and if it weren’t for injuries, the Lakers’ outcome last season could have been much different. He also had a trade all set up to bring Chris Paul to the Lakers, but a league veto prevented the trade from actually going through. This past offseason, the team had no money to spend, but he was still able to bring in young, talented players who were willing to sign for cheap.

If Jackson had come to Los Angeles, there is no doubt that he, Buss and Kupchak would have further torn the Lakers’ management apart. There is already enough trouble with the siblings, and adding Jackson would have made the situation worse. The inability for Jackson and Buss to settle their differences would make it difficult, but Jackson’s insistence on having the final say would not bode well. The Lakers need to focus on fixing their current management situation, and make sure that everyone is on the same page moving forward.

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