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Jim Buss has Lakers power, kept it and used it to hire D’Antoni

Nov 13, 2012, 11:14 AM EDT

Phil Jackson Getty Images

The idea Phil Jackson was the clear frontrunner for the Lakers head coaching job was not some media creation or fan fiction — everyone around the team said Jackson was the lead candidate.

From the start if felt odd — if you were around and felt the distaste between Jackson and Jim Buss (the guy running the basketball side of Lakers for his father Jerry) it seemed odd they would work together again. Especially after Jackson left and Buss cleaned house and long-time guys like assistant GM Ronnie Lester were let go.

Yet Jackson and Buss met last Saturday and — because Jackson likes to take his time and think over decisions — he asked for time until Monday to go over a final answer and discuss terms. At least that’s what all the parties are saying about compensation. I mean, Jim Buss, Mitch Kupchak and Jackson worked together for most of the dozen years Jackson was with the Lakers, you think there was a ton of things to discuss about how he would coach the team? You really think there was no discussion of money and what else he would want to return?

Then Jackson got a midnight phone call late Sunday telling him the Lakers were going with Mike D’Antoni.

Why the switch? It’s all a power play by both sides, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

Jackson wanted to humiliate Lakers vice president Jim Buss far more than he wanted to coach the team. He wanted significant allowances on travel, coaching duties and an ability to veto player personnel moves that didn’t fit his vision. With an unprecedented 11 coaching championships, Jackson had every right to make unprecedented demands. He doesn’t have the right to be surprised when the Lakers rejected them and hired a pliable, cheaper coach in Mike D’Antoni.

“Phil wanted Jim Buss to walk away with his tail between his legs,” one source with knowledge of the discussions told Yahoo! Sports. “He thought he had time to still negotiate with them, and see how much they would give him.”

Jim Buss had the power and wanted to keep it. D’Antoni was his guy. Both sides still deny Jackson’s demands were the issue. Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t.

But another big question remains — why talk to Jackson and let a lot of people know he’s the front runner, why get fans hopes up, if you weren’t going to offer him the job? Buss is smart enough to know the fans wanted Jackson and if he became the clear front-runner anyone else — even a quality coach like D’Antoni — would come off as the consolation prize. Why go down that road?

Kevin Ding at the Orange County Register has a great answer for that in his breakdown of what happened.

The hour and a half at Jackson’s home in Playa del Rey ended with handshakes – but there is evidence to support the belief that it began with the Lakers’ brass never really expecting Jackson to want the job.

When Jackson and Kupchak had a casual lunch just two months ago, Jackson said he didn’t think he ever wanted to coach again. (When Kupchak reminded him of that in the Saturday meeting, Jackson explained that the earlier debate didn’t include all these real and attractive details with his old team in his adopted home, Bryant and Pau Gasol joined now by Dwight Howard and Steve Nash.)…

So maybe the Lakers went into this process planning a token gesture toward Jackson that they could present to the fans: “See, we did try for Phil again – with Jim even proving there are no hard feelings by making the overture personally – and Phil isn’t interested, sorry. Everybody get excited for Mike D’Antoni!”

That seems very plausible.

But it still comes back to the Lakers front office seemed to not have a plan in place from the start, from before they came to the decision to fire Mike Brown. This could all work out — Pat Riley and Paul Westhead both had to take over the Lakers when the season had already started and won titles in their first years as the Lakers head man.

The challenge for D’Antoni is that he is going to have that expectation over his head now — the Lakers fired Mike Brown saying it was all about winning titles, then didn’t hire the coach with 11 rings. For whatever reason.

No pressure, Mike.

  1. loungefly74 - Nov 13, 2012 at 11:19 AM

    hmmm…i think it was a “johnson waving war” between PJ and Jim Buss. PJ pulled out the guns (his demands) and Jim said “screw this! that’s it….game over…game over, man!”

  2. manchestermiracle - Nov 13, 2012 at 11:22 AM

    D’Antoni better produce results or I expect Jerry to can Jimbo for going 0-2 on coaches.

  3. scottheis82 - Nov 13, 2012 at 11:30 AM

    Jim Buss is a joke, Oh well Phil will always have the best line… “Im screwing your sister” hahaha

  4. charlescub80 - Nov 13, 2012 at 11:36 AM

    Why offer a job in the middle of the night?

    • badintent - Nov 13, 2012 at 3:21 PM

      more booze and doobies on the table !!! WHAT ABOUT THE “JENNY BUSS FACTOR “? Was Jim pissed that his little sister is dialed up on “the coach” and he’s not ?? hummmmmmmmmmmmmm ???

  5. scrp2 - Nov 13, 2012 at 11:45 AM

    The Lakers just signed a 3 billion dollar TV deal. Maybe Phil thought he had a lot to do with the value of the Lakers and threw out a couple of demands. Jim Buss had to be a punk and hire D’Antoni at midnight. A handshake is a handshake. They should have negotiated Monday, the whole week or whatever. If you don’t have an agreement then part ways amicably.

    D’Antoni was just as shocked as anyone because he is recovering from knee surgery and can’t even coach. He wasn’t going anywhere. How are you going to hire a coach with a busted knee over the phone? At least have a face to face interview and get a note from his orthopedic surgeon!

    • unxpexted1 - Nov 13, 2012 at 2:56 PM

      This comment further proves that this wasn’t about basketball and it was about sticking it to PJ. You travel to one man’s house to interview….yet just hire another dude off of the phone. I can understand if D’antoni came in and wowed the Lakers but that just wasnt the case. Definitely sniffs of just Buss having a name in mind and making that happen.

  6. thomaskouns - Nov 13, 2012 at 11:46 AM

    I never bought the ‘Phil was screwed routine.’

    Phil can be one of the most strategic, cuthroat and sometimes manipulative figures in the NBA when it suits his purposes – which is also partially why he is such a good coach.

    That being said, Buss seems like an indecisive, frenetic leader who makes questionable decisions.

    But I wouldn’t feel quit as sympathetic to Phil as some other would like us to be.

    • scalfor3 - Nov 13, 2012 at 1:33 PM

      Exactly. The Lakers clearly handled this pretty poorly, but the “Phil was screwed” crowd needs to get real. It’s nice to see someone step up to his pompous BS, but even nicer when the Lakers shoot themselves in the foot in the process.

      • unxpexted1 - Nov 13, 2012 at 2:57 PM

        I dont think it was Phil was screwed. I’m sure he made some outrageous demands, which happens in negotiations. But the knee jerk reaction to hire someone else almost immediately shows this was more of a personal then business decision. And looking at the hire, it doesnt seem to add up basketball wise.

  7. ebrownwareagle - Nov 13, 2012 at 11:54 AM

    Jim Buss = Commodus!!

    • thraiderskin - Nov 13, 2012 at 12:01 PM

      more like Nero…

      • scalfor3 - Nov 13, 2012 at 1:34 PM

        Kobe = Coriolanus. His ego is both his biggest strength and greatest weakness.

      • badintent - Nov 13, 2012 at 3:23 PM

        Where does Mark Anthony fit in to all of this ?
        Cleopatra= Jenny Buss ??

  8. qdog112 - Nov 13, 2012 at 11:59 AM

    Phil has his eye (long term) on having a serious stake on the Lakers. He and Jenne have plans that Jim wants to block. This is all based on emotions. The reason for the late night call is that Jim finally convinced Jerry of Phil’s ulterior motive and he (Jim) couldn’t stand the idea of being less powerful after daddy’s gone.

    Having Phil back and winning, automatically diminishes Jim and raises Phil to cult status. Egos and pride supersede the greater good of winning. This is a huge setback for the team, whose biological clock is about to strike midnight.

  9. money2long - Nov 13, 2012 at 12:14 PM

    guys, let’s not pretend like the lakers can’t just fire diantoni after this season and talk to phil again in the summer. the lakers aren’t handcuffed to this deal. they aren’t scared to make moves, but they are calculated moves nonetheless. if they don’t like how things turn out, they have the money to still pay whatever is left on both mike’s contracts (brown, diantoni) and still hire phil to start the 2013 season.

    i will support diantoni in the meantime. it is not his fault he was hired. his job now is to do the best possible job. his job is to meet expectations. if he does not, it will be in buss’ hand again to steer the lakers in another direction.

    • abchome - Nov 13, 2012 at 5:49 PM

      If they did talk about money in their meeting, Phil wouldn’t say they didn’t in his statement. I really don’t see any reason why Phil would blatantly lie on this.

  10. bucrightoff - Nov 13, 2012 at 1:07 PM

    Actually the bridges to sign Phil have been more or less torched. Assuming he actually picks up the phone if they call again, he basically can answer with a laugh and say “So everything I asked for before….PLUS….” The Lakers cannot go back to him for any more coaching searches because he has the hammer. In fact, I actually expect him to be all kinds of petty and sign with the Clippers in the offseason. So if by chance D’Antoni is something like 12-15 after 27 games, you can’t go to Phil unless its with a blank check. Phil is gone forever from the Lakers, and they better pray they made the right choice, because there is no GOAT waiting in the wings.

  11. admin - Nov 13, 2012 at 2:00 PM

    This is my 1st ever post on here…but i read the posts all the time and i appreciate this site. But i have to comment on this:

    What Phil wanted is what a GM would usually ask for. He does deserve all (or most) of what he is asking, because you can’t replace 11 rings (13 if you are including the ones he won with the Knicks).

    The thing is: No way in our lifetime will Jim Buss allow someone thats not in the family to have a stake in the “Buss Family Business”. It will never happen, even if Phil is dating his sister, Jenine.

    If you remember, Pat Riley had a similar issue with the Knicks brass after the 94-95 season, which resulted in Pat Riley going to smaller market Miami and start his own foundation there. I think Phil needs to do the same thing. Go to a team, like Houston Rockets or Portland Trailblazers and start his own foundation there, with his own people. I will be a great challenge for him, and he wouldnt have to travel that much.

    But he’s not doing that with the Lakers and the Buzz family business, especially if Jimmy is in charge.

  12. misterdreamer119 - Nov 13, 2012 at 2:45 PM

    I love it dantoni couldnt even stand up to carmelo and now Kobe? Plus at this point Lin has more game than Nash.

    • money2long - Nov 13, 2012 at 4:50 PM

      kobe idolized diantoni as a child.

  13. ocgunslinger - Nov 13, 2012 at 3:33 PM

    Dantoni has high expectations from the Laker fans? Really? Reading the posts on several blogs it sounds like they are all expecting him to fail. I was one of the masses expecting PJ to return and I was excited about the prospects….not to be. However Dantoni is not the failure many are making him out to be. Let’s reserve judgment until February when we have more than conjecture.

  14. katra2logic - Nov 13, 2012 at 3:40 PM

    Jim should through himself under the bus(s)…

  15. omniusprime - Nov 13, 2012 at 3:41 PM

    I detest that worthless excuse for a human being Jim Buss. I think Phil had every right to ensure that the little idiot buss boy had to walk round with his tail between his legs after he dismantled a championship team with a championship Triangle offense and hired Clueless Clown Brown to come in a replace a legend’s legacy with total garbage. Phil showed us all that the little buss boy has serious mental problems and a delusion of self greatness he never earned.

    I’m not going to watch the Lakers until they prove to me they’re a championship caliber team with a championship caliber offense and defense. If D’Antoni thinks his 7 second premature ejaculation offense is going to work with the Lakers then he’ll have to prove it. I’m not gojng to hope for another Laker championship when I see serious front office problems that will preclude it.

    Go Lakers??? Maybe.

  16. mcsuave - Nov 13, 2012 at 4:18 PM

    Paying the contract of Mike Brown, who was owed over 10 mil. and Phil who commands over 10 mil. does not seem like a viable option, especially when you add in concessions for Phil.

  17. ludachrisgsx - Nov 13, 2012 at 6:53 PM

    I still think this was more Jerry’s doing than Jim’s. Jerry didn’t really want to bring back the triangle when Phil left the first time. He wanted to bring back showtime. It’s almost like Al Davis’ flawed vision of the old Raiders long passing glory days. Jerry seems focused on bringing back the glory days instead of bringing back a proven system and a coach that didn’t do things the way he liked. Championships don’t seem to be the goal anymore, it seems to be style and flair.

    Not to say they can’t win that way, but this isn’t the 05-06 Suns that had young wing players running the floor to catch those lob passes. Hell, the few fast break opportunities this team gets look terrible… like some high school team that hasn’t practiced a fast break. I think they will test the trade market again with Pau to try and get a little younger and athletic at the 3 and 4.

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