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Why Don't The Lakers Want Him?

Phil Jackson apparently wants Laker coaching job, but Buss' money and West's power appear to be the main reasons for not pursuing him.

May 28, 1999|BILL PLASCHKE

Available for hire is a coach with as many NBA championship rings as every other previous Los Angeles Laker coach combined.

And the Lakers haven't called him.

Ready to board the next plane to LAX is a coach who turned two of history's greatest players into one of history's greatest teams.

And the Lakers won't invite him.

Sources say Phil Jackson wants the job. He would take the job without demanding total control. He would take the job without getting crazy about the money.

But sources also say the Lakers have not contacted him or given any indication they plan to contact him.

Phil Jackson was good enough for Michael Jordan.

But, apparently, he is not good enough for Jerry Buss.

At this point in the post-trauma search for a permanent Laker head coach, everyone needs to step back, take a deep breath, forget about favored sons and favors owed, and simply ask:


Why would you not want to give your team the best opportunity to succeed?

Why, after spending loads of money on the game's top center and top young shooting guard, would you not want to spend half that money on its top coach?

Why would you do that to yourself?

Why would you do that to your fans?

Many of those fans are understandably loyal to Kurt Rambis, but this is not about Kurt Rambis.

Although it was written here that Rambis needs more experience before leading this emotionally unsettled outfit, this is not about that.

This is about Phil Jackson, and how there is not an interim coach on this planet good enough not to be replaced by him.

Not Rambis. Not anybody.

So, why?

Why does it appear the Lakers will give the job to Rambis without even calling the other guy?

Buss wouldn't comment Thursday and doesn't exactly cherish communication with his paying customers, so we'll have to guess.

The first and most obvious reason is probably money.

Buss has never spent big money on a head coach, and, because Jackson made $6 million his last year in Chicago, he would be reasonable in expecting the same figure here.

Buss can probably get Rambis for about $1.5 million, representing a $4.5 million savings.

A man can buy a lot of frayed jeans for $4.5 million.

Which is fine, this is Buss' prerogative. There's no law that he has to spend big money.

Except, well, he's asking you to spend big money.

Or haven't you received your ticket information for the Staples Center?

The Lakers moving into their rich new building while refusing to pay appropriate dollars for a coach is a little like a landlord raising your rent but refusing to fix the bumpy carpet.

Again, we're not going to tell Buss how to spend his money, particularly because this is his main source of income.

But we will mention how a team in the medium-sized market of Orlando spent its money: $5 million last year for a head coach.

The New Jersey Nets have already offered to give Jackson $7 million--and for coaching only, which is what Jackson would do here.

And the Nets, incidentally, are the second team in their market. The Lakers are not. At least not yet.

As with anything in life, if the problem is not money, then it has to be power.

Jerry West has never hired a coach who had the credentials, or desire, to interfere with his personnel moves.

Not Mike Dunleavy. Not Randy Pfund. Not Del Harris. (Remember, Magic Johnson was essentially hired by Buss).

There is obviously the worry that Jackson, with more rings than West, would want more control. But Jackson has already told friends he wouldn't.

Jackson would be thrilled if West simply didn't treat him the way Jerry Krause treated him. Such as the time the Chicago general manager ordered him to leave the facility while they were testing potential draftees, then didn't invite him to the draft.

Jackson has never been Jerry West. He doesn't want to be Jerry West. He just wants to work with Jerry West.

For the good of the team, is that so impossible?

You are going to ask Shaq and Kobe to get along, yet maybe not hire Jackson because he and West couldn't get along?

It's all so silly.

Here's hoping that there are no issues, that the Lakers were only testing public reaction when they talked about bringing Rambis back.

Here's hoping they realize they will flunk that test, and that they get to work on doing the right thing.

Although Jackson's representatives are taking the high road and not giving interviews, friends say he is apparently enjoying working on Sen. Bill Bradley's presidential campaign--they are close friends--and could easily wait another year to return to the game.

But who knows what will happen then? Why should he wait? Why should the Lakers wait? The perfect opportunity is right here, right now.

The league's hottest coach and its most talented team can combine forces at the best possible time. The rested boss is ready to teach. The humbled players are ready to listen.

And the Lakers would listen.

When the man who turned Michael Jordan into a team player walks through that door, they will sit.

When the man who publicly exposed Scottie Pippen after he refused to enter a playoff game in the final 1.8 seconds speaks, they will be silent.

Phil Jackson has history, credibility and the motivation to prove he can win a title without Jordan.

What he still doesn't have is a phone call from area code 310.

With the draft fast approaching, the coaching search has already reached the final minute.

They have been given a chance at an eight-foot jump hook. They simply need to call the play.

Bill Plaschke can be reached at his e-mail address:


Bench Marks

Phil Jackson's NBA coaching record in nine seasons with the Chicago Bulls:

* Regular-season record: 545-193 (.738)

* Playoff record: 111-41 (.730)

* NBA titles: Six

* Coach of year: One (1996)

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