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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.

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