Originally Published: November 9, 2012

1. The Lakers Should Have Only Two Choices

Stein By Marc Stein
ESPN.com
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Phil Jackson, Mike D'AntoniGetty ImagesOption A: Phil Jackson. Option B: Mike D'Antoni. Take your pick, Lakers.

The only way to validate the third-fastest axing in NBA history, to make sense of that head-spinning swiftness, is to replace the fired coach with a bigger, better option who instantly can turn Lakerland into a much happier place.

And there are just two names, of the near-dozen in circulation as potential replacements for Mike Brown, capable of leading the Lakers to that sort of speedy transformation.

Phil Jackson.

And Mike D'Antoni.

That's it.

Of all the coaches who've been proposed as successors to a Brown reign that spanned just 71 regular-season games, L.A. has to emerge next week with either Jackson or D'Antoni as the new boss to prevent further, lasting disarray for the only team on the NBA map with a $100 million payroll. Now that the Princeton offense is thankfully a memory, this breaks down as a simple two-man game.

The appeal of Jackson doesn't require much elaboration. No coach has ever won more rings or managed superstars with a defter touch. No other coach in the sport could bring as much clout to work every day. As Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak confirmed at Friday afternoon's hastily arranged news conference, he's obligated to see whether the 11-ringed Zen Master can be lured back to the Lakers' bench for a third run in charge now that Dwight Howard and Steve Nash have been imported since the limp, chaotic way it all ended for Phil in L.A. in the 2011 playoffs.

But if the Lakers can't convince him to be their Billy Martin-esque panacea? If Jeanie Buss hasn't already helped Jackson, her longtime paramour, and Jim Buss, her brother, forget all about their chilly parting two summers back to prearrange Phil's soon-to-be-announced triumphant return? If the 67-year-old feels it's wiser, for his long-term health, to take a pass?

D'Antoni has to be the guy.

D'Antoni has the connections with Nash and Kobe Bryant to start restoring some semblance of organizational unity. He would install the sort of offense to energize the guys who have been rolling their eyes at Brown and entertain the demanding customers paying Hollywood prices who remain forever partial to Showtime. He would hush the skeptics who say his teams don't play enough D to win rings because he's never had a team with a deterrent like Howard at the rim playing goalie. And he would find this megamarket to be friendlier, slightly more Phoenix-like, than the Madison Square Garden scene with its pushy press.

While it's true that the Lakers don't yet know how Howard compares to Amar'e Stoudemire as a roll man next to Nash and that they lack the cadre of shooters seen in Phoenix to fan out to the corners, D'Antoni is a far better fit than anyone else outside of Jackson you want to suggest. Coaching in the Southern California glare would be a shock to Jerry Sloan's system. Nate McMillan's teams have always ranked at the bottom of the league in pace, which won't play with the crowds that congregate at Staples Center. Reuniting Stan Van Gundy with Howard so soon is thoroughly, laughably impossible. And Jeff Van Gundy -- who, as we've covered before, has been quietly admired by the Lakers for some time -- is too close to Stan.

You likewise can scratch the idea of a young coaching prospect -- Brian Shaw, Chuck Person or, yes, Derek Fisher -- coming into this win-now situation after Jim Buss had to fire another big-bucks coach that didn't last 82 games after Jerry Buss' son handpicked him. (It happened with Rudy Tomjanovich just 43 games into the 2004-05 season and has happened again after Buss personally selected Brown over Rick Adelman.)

I've said it countless times and believe it more about modern sport with each passing year: Nothing matters more to a coach's success than his players. But the level of buy-in a coach commands -- how much respect he generates -- is a clear-cut No. 2 on the list of ingredients for success. X's and O's? A distant third because you always can find a good assistant or two, Larry Bird-style, to fill in the tactical holes.

Jackson naturally would have instant buy-in from all the Lakers' stars, starting with the holdovers (Kobe and Pau Gasol) who continue to routinely quote him to this day and especially from the big man (Howard) who hasn't won anything yet. That's all a given no matter how spent the Lakers and particularly Jackson looked at the end of his last stint two years ago.

Yet I'm convinced D'Antoni could count on a healthy dose of buy-in, too, even without a championship on his résumé, thanks to support that would trickle down from the point guard he helped win two MVP trophies (Nash) and a relationship with Bryant that dates back to Kobe's father's days playing against him in Italy.

As shocked as you might have been to see Brown canned two weeks before Thanksgiving, seeing anyone other than Jackson or D'Antoni take over would be the far bigger surprise.

Dimes past: Oct. 30 | 31 | Nov. 1 | 2-3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9


2. Western Conference


We haven't necessarily seen the last of former Memphis Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley.

Not if you buy what's circulating with increasing volume about Heisley's interest in eventually buying the Milwaukee Bucks from Herb Kohl.

Sale speculation about the Bucks has been a staple for years, but the latest scenario in circulation has the Chicago-based Heisley making a serious bid to buy the franchise if Sen. Kohl can secure the new building (or Bradley Center refurbishment) that would cement the team's future in Wisconsin.

Kohl is 76. Heisley is 75 and cited his age as one of the factors that prompted him to sell the Grizzlies to 34-year-old technology magnate Robert Pera, but Heisley also made it clear when news of the sale emerged in June that he might not have taken that step if his dream of the Grizzlies becoming the second NBA team in the Chicago area had materialized.

Buying the Bucks would give Heisley a very-close-to-home route back into the league he loves, after those long-ago attempts to convince the league that Chicago was big enough for two NBA franchises proved unsuccessful.


Some numbers of note in the West this week:

28: The Lakers lost Wednesday night in Utah despite attempting 28 more free throws than the Jazz (46-18). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, L.A. had won its previous 24 games with such a large disparity, dating all the way back to Nov. 19, 1970, when the Lakers fell to Seattle even with a 48-19 edge in free throw attempts.

2: O.J. Mayo already has two 30-point games for his new team in Dallas after managing just one over the previous three seasons in Memphis. Mayo had seven 30-point games as a Grizzlies rookie in 2008-09.

24: When Jamal Crawford averaged 24 points off the bench for the Clippers through the season's first four games, it accounted for the highest points-per-game mark for any reserve in that span since Wayman Tisdale did the same for Indiana at the start of the 1988-89 season.

3: The Clippers are one of three active franchises, along with Toronto (which began play in 1995-96) and the Charlotte Bobcats (who debuted in 2004-05), to never win 50 games in a single season. The Clips topped out at 49-33 in 1974-75, when they were still playing in Buffalo with my man Dr. Jack Ramsay at the helm. L.A., though, did post a winning percentage better than .600 in 2011-12 during the lockout-shortened season -- going 40-26 for a success rate of .606 -- to leave the Milwaukee Brewers and Texas Rangers as the only two teams in existence since 1970 in any of the four major North American professional sports leagues without a .600 season.

13: The Spurs, by contrast, have won 50 games in each of the past 13 seasons. That's a league record.


Word is there was some early worry in Denver that Kenneth Faried returned for his second season with the strut of someone who bought into all the positive press he got as a Cinderella rookie and expected to be treated differently in Year 2.

That was October.

The Nuggets' past three games quickly hushed those concerns. In a mere 94 minutes in those games, Faried reverted to vintage Manimal form, amassing a heady 53 points and 36 boards.

Denver's big challenge now is to get JaVale McGee playing up to his new four-year, $44 million contract. McGee began the season as Denver's backup center behind the unheralded Kosta Koufos.

Faried, for the record, isn't even eligible for a contract extension until the summer of 2014, when he'll be hoping to join McGee, Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler on the list of Nuggets signed to long-term deals.

3. Eastern Conference


It's a smaller world than you think sometimes.

The latest example: Jonny Flynn's deal to play with the faraway Melbourne Tigers in hopes of resurrecting his NBA career.

Flynn, taken No. 6 overall by Minnesota in the 2009 draft, couldn't generate anything more in free agency this past summer than a nonguaranteed invite to training camp from the Pistons, who began the season with a full 15 guaranteed contracts. He then found himself behind Will Bynum and even Terrence Williams (who also was released) in the Pistons' pecking order when they let him go last month.

The Tigers, though, make far more sense as the launching pad for Flynn's road back than it appears on the surface. As far away as Australia is, Melbourne is coached by former NBA center Chris Anstey, who has just undertaken his first coaching job at age 37. The 7-footer, drafted by Portland on Dallas' behalf with the No. 18 overall pick in 1997, was one of the first basketball clients for agent Leon Rose. And Rose happens to represent Flynn.

Sources with knowledge of the deal say Flynn's contract with Melbourne has an out clause that allows for an immediate return to the NBA if someone calls. If Flynn had done what most players in his sneaks are doing these days -- taking the big money in China -- he would have been prevented from coming back to the States until the end of the Chinese season in March.

Flynn averaged 13.5 points per game in Minnesota as a rookie while the Wolves were waiting for Ricky Rubio but wasn't the same player over the past two seasons (with stops in Houston and Portland) after hip surgery.


Some numbers of note in the East this week:

3: The Knicks are just the ninth team in history to win their first three games by at least 15 points. Of the previous eight, only the 1971-72 Lakers and 1962-63 Celtics went on to win the championship.

43: New York's 43 made 3-pointers, believe it or not, represent the highest three-game total in NBA history for any team.

5: Philly's Jrue Holiday hits the weekend averaging 18 points, 9.5 assists, 4 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. The only players to hit those levels for a full season are Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Kevin Johnson, Tim Hardaway and Chris Paul.

3: Three of the four teams that have never managed to record a 4-0 start emanate from the East: Orlando (which joined the NBA in 1989), Toronto (1995) and Charlotte (2004). Memphis (1995) is the other; San Antonio removed itself from the list with its 4-0 launch this season.

669: Greg Monroe's 21 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in Wednesday night's loss at Sacramento added up to the first triple-double for the Pistons since Chauncey Billups had one Feb. 20, 2004. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Monroe thus halted a streak of 669 games without a triple-double for Detroit. The league's longest drought now belongs to Indiana at 767 games, dating back to 2003, when Jermaine O'Neal had a triple-double.


Charlotte big man Byron Mullens didn't shoot a single 3 in his first two seasons in Oklahoma City and attempted just 51 3-pointers last season in 65 games.

He's on course to hoist that many well before Thanksgiving now that he has the full-on green light from long distance.

For those of you who don't follow Bobcats box scores as closely as others, Mullens is attempting eight 3s per game this season and recently insisted to ESPN.com that outside shooting has "been a part of my game since high school."

Now we all know it.

4. Marc's Quote

"It's on for now but not forever."

lastname
Harden

Houston's James Harden, referring to the league's most celebrated beard back in mid-October when I asked him how long he planned to keep his signature look.

In the story I wound up writing about Harden's uncertain future in Oklahoma City and how it hung over everything happening in training camp for the reigning Western Conference champs, I pondered using the quote at the end of the story as an observation that also aptly summed up where he stood with the Thunder.

But I ultimately talked myself out of it, struggling to believe -- even as decisively as Thunder GM Sam Presti is known to move -- that the end of the Harden/Kevin Durant/Russell Westbrook triumvirate could actually be so near.

Oops.

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