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Friday, November 9, 2012
Lakers' future hinges on Jim Buss

By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com

Jim Buss
Jim Buss hasn't had the same success in picking Laker head coaches as his father, Jerry, once did.

Is five games too soon to draw a conclusion? Not when it comes to evaluating Jim Buss. The hasty dismissal of Mike Brown is more of a reflection on the Lakers' top decision maker than it is their fired coach, and we've learned Buss isn't so good at this coach-picking thing.

Neither of the two coaches Buss hired has lasted 82 games, or the equivalent of one full NBA season. Rudy Tomjanovich flamed out midway through the 2004-05 season, his first year on the job. Brown had the 66-game lockout season, and that now-notorious 1-4 start this season.

In between there was Phil Jackson, a hire that Buss acquiesced to more than he approved of. Buss and Jackson never hit it off, but it was impossible to ignore Jackson's nine championships, and he brought two more to the Lakers during his second term. It was also notable that on Jackson's way out the door he dropped the little tidbit that he hadn't spoken to Buss all season.

It's time for them to have a chat. It doesn't have to be extensive.

Buss: "You ready to do this?"

Phil: "Mmmm-hmmm."

Buss: "I'll have my people call your people."

Phil: "OK."

Buss will have to accept the fact that he's tried it his way, and it hasn't worked. Back to Phil. As one source familiar with the Lakers' thinking said of Jackson: "No one's the leading candidate at this point. He's the best candidate."

In 2011, Buss purposefully avoided hiring Jackson's assistant, Brian Shaw, because Buss was in the process of purging the Laker organization and putting his stamp on the team. The Lakers whacked everyone from the assistant general manager to scouts to the equipment manager who'd been washing jerseys and hauling bags since the Showtime era. Buss made his guy, Brown, the coach.

Until Brown wasn't his guy anymore. A day after telling ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne that "I just have to be patient" and "I'm fine with what's going on" the Lakers went all Quick Draw McGraw on Brown.

All of a sudden the one word we'd heard from the Lakers since the first day the Lakers started working on the Princeton offense in training camp -- patience -- was nowhere to be found.

"They either weren't getting it or they were going to take too long to get it," general manager Mitch Kupchak said. "And we weren't willing to wait to see which of the two it was."

You'll notice Kupchak was the one at the news conference, not Buss. Buss has been more accessible to reporters lately, coming off the Lakers' triumphant summer, but whenever things go bad in Lakerland his is never the first voice you hear.

Phil Jackson
The Lakers may again need Phil Jackson to clean up past mistakes.

Buss has to be held accountable for two failed coaching hires. On the one hand, it's understandable that the Lakers would hire people with the credentials of Tomjanovich (two-time champion with the Houston Rockets) and Brown (Coach of the Year winner, NBA Finals with the Cleveland Cavaliers). But he also missed chances to find a promising new coach, the way the Bulls did with Tom Thibodeau or the Hornets did with Monty Williams. The first post-Jackson hire in 2004 would have been the best time to do so, with Shaquille O'Neal gone and a Lakers roster that had the lowest expectations in a decade. Even last season, with a team that seemed to be on the decline as the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat ascended, they could have gotten away with it.

Unfortunately, they can't experiment right now. They're caught in a vortex of pressure, from star Kobe Bryant's advancing age to owner Jerry Buss' declining health, all of which has the Lakers in more of a win-now mentality than ever before.

It's why they're willing to spend lavishly on the payroll, regardless of the luxury tax ramifications to come. It's why they're willing to continue to write checks to Mike Brown to no longer coach the team. And it's why they'll probably go with a prominent name.

Mike D'Antoni would run an offense better suited for Steve Nash than Brown did. But he's coming off knee replacement surgery ... and even when fully mobile he has never focused on defense, which is the Lakers' biggest issue right now.

Jerry Sloan? That's a Dwight Howard clash waiting to happen. And Dwight will be a free agent after the season.

Nate McMillan could work, given time. But he's only coached one team past the first round of the playoffs. A first-round exit would be considered an epic failure with this roster.

Even Phil Jackson isn't without his issues. The Triangle is predicated on the pass, and isn't the best fit for the dribble-oriented Nash. Only five players are left from the group Jackson coached in 2010-11, meaning most of the team would have to learn the Triangle, which means another adjustment period, which would require more patience.

But Jackson is in Los Angeles, is feeling healthier than he did at the end of his last tenure and isn't philosophically opposed to coaching the Lakers again.

The main thing Jackson has going for him is he wouldn't be Jim Buss' first choice to coach the team. What indication is there that the Lakers should follow Buss' instincts?