When Jim Buss and Lakers management fired Mike Brown as coach, they should have had a deal already in place with Phil Jackson. The current roster is too old for D'Antoni's up-tempo game. By Bill Plaschke
November 12, 2012, 5:00 a.m.
The new Lakers coach famously wants his players to shoot in seven seconds or less. I’m not going to require that long to list the reasons that hiring Mike D'Antoni was yet another Buss blunder.
He's never taken a team to an NBA Finals. He has a losing record in the playoffs. He doesn't coach defense. His sprinting offense will be tested on a team led by aging guys who no longer sprint.
And, oh yeah, he's not Phil Jackson.
I'll repeat what I wrote on Friday, only now with a greater and sadder emphasis: The only way the panicky firing of Mike Brown makes even an ounce of sense is if he was immediately replaced by Jackson.
Turns out, not only did Jim Buss not have a deal in place with Jackson when he fired Brown -- an inconceivable truth -- but he also wasn't prepared to make a deal. Buss apparently walked away from Jackson partially because the coach asked for an ownership piece of the team. Magic Johnson wins five championship rings and gets a piece of the Lakers, but Jackson's five championship rings gets him the door? This couldn’t be because Jim Buss never really liked Jackson, could it?
If you insist on applauding the Buss family for great ownership in moving so fast on firing Brown, then you must rip them for not having his logical replacement already in place, and you must be sickened that they didn’t realize the only man for that job, at this time, at any cost, was Jackson.
Mike D'Antoni is a great guy and a charismatic presence. If they add some younger and quicker pieces, the Lakers could eventually be wildly fun. But he has even less credibility with players than Mike Brown. He is exactly as one-dimensonal as Mike Brown. And his postseason basketball success makes Mike Brown look like, well, Jackson.
If you want to hire D'Antoni, you give Brown more than five games to get this roster figured out, because the transition time for D'Antoni is going to be long and the rewards are going to be questionable. If you want to hire D'Antoni, you make darn sure this season is trashed first, because there are no guarantees that his system can get any team past the second round.
Once it became obvious that Buss wouldn't give in to Jackson's incredible demands -- do you really blame Jackson for his asking price? -- then they should have just handed the team to Bernie Bickerstaff and taken their time in a national search. Instead, they settled on a guy who is recovering from knee-replacement surgery and can't even join the team immediately, they settled on him in about two days, and they relied on his best reference being a point guard with a fractured leg.
What about interviewing Brian Shaw? How about Nate McMillan? If Jackson is not an option, don't you at least look at Jerry Sloan?
D'Antoni coached in New York, so he can handle the heat here. The problem is, he went 121-167 there and could not even weasel a winning record out of a roster that, at one point, included Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin.
D'Antoni coached basketball's most exciting team in Phoenix, so he knows entertainment. The problem: Those Phoenix teams had flexible fliers like Leandro Barbosa, Shawn Marion, a younger Steve Nash and a healthier Stoudemire. All that, and they still lost in the Western Conference finals in consecutive seasons.
His teams famously don't guard anybody. His offense is famously based on youth and quickness. His is a game of glitter but, so far, no NBA gold. How long is Dwight Howard sticking around if he doesn't think this guy can make the Lakers a winner?
On Friday night, in the wake of the Brown firing, everyone from the fans to Kobe Bryant were begging for Phil Jackson. Come this morning, they should be begging for an explanation.
One could list the reasons that the Mike Brown fire/Mike D'Antoni hire is just the latest in a series of moves that, despite their glittering roster, illustrate a huge vacancy in the Lakers' top-level leadership. But it's going to take a lot more than seven seconds.