The Drama of the Lakers' Coaching Search

It came and went. Within three days, the Lakers fired, courted, got annoyed by, flirted with and rejected a different coach.

Mike Brown wasn’t good enough. Phil Jackson was too demanding. Mike D’Antoni fit the billing just right.

In three days, we learned that Kobe respected all three options and the Lakers figured they could only tolerate one.

We didn’t learn that Mike Brown wasn’t fit for the job as much as we were reminded how in over his head he turned out to be. No one was prepared for the most random and dramatic coaching search in recent memory, not even the guy being replaced and the guys doing the replacing.

In firing one Mike and hiring another, the Lakers showed they never really had a plan of what they wanted to but they had an idea of what they weren’t going to do. They weren’t going to go back, they weren't going to have Phil save the day again and they weren’t going to let Mike Brown be the guy who, in their opinion, did more harm than good.

I’m one of the few who have felt Mike Brown’s firing was rushed, abrupt and even a bit unfair. In two seasons, his number of games coached (71) don’t equate to that of those in one season (82), he inherited a Laker team in turmoil with a failed Chris Paul trade on the brink, the NBA lockout had just ended, Pau Gasol’s psyche was damaged, and Andrew Bynum proved too immature for a featured role as the face of the NBA’s most storied franchise.

The same Lakers team that Phil got sympathy for after being swept in the second round of the 2011 Playoffs was the same team Mike Brown was criticized for not doing more with minus the same Lamar Odom who won Sixth Man of the Year the year before Brown got to town.

Then again, Brown’s tenure also saw him defer to his coaches often for play-calling duties, he never figured out a consistent rotation and some can argue that his offensive shortcomings became too glaring for a team featuring a Kobe Bryant who wants a sixth ring quick, fast and in a hurry.

[caption id="attachment_1526" align="alignleft" width="259" caption="Mike Brown just really never seemed to fit the bill as the Lakers' coach."][/caption]

Enter Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, two future Hall of Famers who have been the premiere guys at their respective center and point guard positions. Both were seen as the perfection combination of youth (Howard) and talent (Nash) that Kobe needed to extend his career and set the Lakers up for the future after he retires.

With heightened expectations, Brown’s flaws became all the more intolerable to the masses. His lack of a rotation had you questioning what he was doing, his lack of authoritative vigor made you question his grip on the team and, simply put, the results, or lack thereof, just didn’t serve as the assurance one needed to dispel the notion that he was in over his head.

All points very valid, all points taken into account, we then enter Phil Jackson.

Phil knew the Lakers needed him, he wanted to be able to have control of the team and of Jim Buss. There isn’t a question that he wanted to coach this Lakers team, how can you not with all of this unique talent? The question was how much he wanted to coach them and at what cost.

The Lakers weren’t willing to surrender roster control to Phil when Mitch Kupchak got Howard and Nash for a trade exception and a center with a random attitude and even more random knees. They didn’t want to pay him $13 million when they’re on the hook for Brown’s $11 million and Rudy T.’s contract, this matters when they’re being paid to not be the Lakers’ coach anymore.

Phil didn’t just want the Lakers to let him coach, he wanted the ego boost and the Lakers weren’t going to give him that for a third time. Phil knew that, in an ideal situation, the Lakers wanted him to clean up their mess one more time. They took a step back and entered Mike D’Antoni.

[caption id="attachment_1527" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Mike D'Antoni and Kobe Bryant go back years, how many do they need to capture a title together?"][/caption]

Mike D’Antoni’s career has been both unique and criticized. He’s introduced the Seven Seconds or Less offense that won Nash two MVPs in Phoenix, he helped bring intrigue back to the Knicks and he’s an innovative mind. The problem for most is that he doesn’t value much defense.

Initially, I was skeptical in regards to D’Antoni’s hiring as Lakers coach. The skepticism was more in the process than the finished product. I hold firm to the idea that firing a guy five games into the season may as well have been an offseason firing. I also objectively stick to the idea that what must be must be done. Brown had to go, Phil couldn’t be tolerated and D’Antoni couldn’t be more charming.

Now, D’Antoni won’t only be compared to Brown’s shortcomings, he’ll inevitably be compared to Phil’s triumphs. He’s won games in his career, although it’s been four since he’s earned a single playoff victory.

Isn’t it that the fun part of this, though? Trying to find a way to discredit anyone and everyone not named Phil Jackson? D’Antoni has never won a title, he’s never been to the Finals, he doesn’t like defense and he coached the Knicks into the ground.

For all his current flaws and future struggles to be found out later, D’Antoni has the unanimous admiration of everyone involved. The Lakers brass approved, Kobe Bryant grew up with him, Nash has succeed with him, Howard will get plenty pick and roll chances with him and the rest of the team will fit into his scheme.

If there’s anything to be said about the Lakers’ start to the season, it’s that nothing should be taken from a hellacious two weeks. Brown isn’t as bad a coach as his five games would imply, the Lakers aren’t as bad by the same token and the NBA really isn’t as predictable and cut & dry as many would-be analysts would pretend it is.

If you need any proof, don’t look at the Mike Brown firing, look at the aftermath. At what point did ANY of us know what was going to happen? Exactly, it came and went just that quickly.

Before judging the hire, I just preach to Laker fans the same I preached to skeptics who judged too quickly how slowly the Lakers started out, be patient. There’s still a whole season to play.

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