During the 2012 NBA offseason, the Los Angeles Lakers acquired superstars Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to bolster a roster which already included Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Howard had been a rumored target of the Lakers for quite some time, and his acquisition along with the addition of Nash made most Lakers fans forget about the rescinded Chris Paul trade.
Two former MVP award winners in Nash and Bryant, an elite offensive big-man in Gasol, and a multiple time DPOY in Howard allowed many to dub this version of the Lakers as a “Dream Team.” However, the instability of the head coaching position would only reveal an even greater turmoil within the organization starting at the very top.
Following a winless preseason, doubts sunk in regarding the leadership and coaching style that head coach Mike Brown had with the roster in place for the Lakers. Most equated the early struggles to rust and a steep learning curve, but the team faltered out of the starting gates with a 1-4 regular season record. Exit Brown, enter a new head coach: Phil Jackson?
After Brown’s firing, rumors circulated of Jackson’s return to the Laker sidelines. These rumors only intensified through vociferous chants by Lakers fans at the two home games following Brown’s dismissal. But for once, despite taking place in Los Angeles, the narrative was too memorizing, and too good to be true. The combustible elements, which comprised the Lakers’ team and organization, would not allow for this story to have a happy ending.
With Jackson’s pending return, fans rejoiced over another championship and the opportunity to re-acquire the greatest coach in NBA history. Only, the Lakers’ decision-makers, mainly Jim Buss, the son of the late owner Dr. Jerry Buss and brother of Jeanie Buss, persuaded his dying father into another last-minute option — Mike D’Antoni.
While Laker players, fans and media members clamored for Jackson’s return, Jim Buss did not share the same sentiment and affection for what his sister’s boyfriend brought to the table. Jackson’s denunciation for a position he was initially offered made absolutely no sense to everyone outside of the decision-making process. But to Jim Buss, it all made perfect sense.
This was the time for Jim Buss to make a name for himself and to not let Jackson march back into the organization with his polished championship rings, his cool, calm and collected demeanor, and with Jeanie Buss by his side.
Essentially, Jim Buss was tired of the games Jackson played, which included the prolonged time Jackson would use when deciding if he wanted to return each season when he was the head coach, and his desire to not travel for most road games if he returned. Buss also questioned whether or not Jackson’s coaching style would mesh with the recently-acquired Nash and Howard.
Also at the time, Jackson’s relationship with Jeanie Buss created friction between he and Jim Buss, which carried over into the final coaching decision.
The fact remains that Jim Buss let his ego get in the way of making the best basketball decision possible. The news was shocking, disappointing and unfortunate because D’Antoni is a good-natured and optimistic individual. However, the initial negativity which ensued would cloud D’Antoni’s entire tenure with the Lakers, and foreshadow the mess of a season that lay ahead.
How Jackson, an 11-time NBA Champion as head coach, five of which came with the Lakers, could be denied this job still haunts the Lakers today.
In his last major move as owner, Jerry Buss fatefully ended the Lakers’ championship hopes for the season; a season he would not live to see conclude. While Jerry Buss left a lasting legacy of greatness in the city of Los Angeles, the last decision he made, which included listening to his son Jim, proved to be nothing more than a Hollywood bomb.
Is it possible that Jackson had worn out his welcome not from a personal standpoint, but from a public and professional position, which left him better suited to stay away from the Laker sidelines and organization altogether? The answer would have to be yes, if simply because no other organization would ever turn down the greatest coach in NBA history.
Sometimes pride can do that to an individual, and in this case, that individual is the one who has the final decision.