What Can Brown Do for Purple and Gold?

Phil Jackson update: He and Luc Longley were riding the hammerheads at the Great Barrier Reef when Crocodile Dundee paddled up in a canoe and said Phil had a call from a Miss Jeanie Buss in the USA.

Crocodile said there was a phone at the Outback restaurant on the beach. That night when Phil called, Jeanie said, “I’ve got Dad up to $10 million for two months every season! Frank will get us in the playoffs and then you take over!”

“That’s great!” Phil said. “Just one more thing! Is Kobe still on the team?”

Meanwhile, back on Earth ...


Bad news for Laker fans dreaming of the way things were: Shaquille O’Neal is in Miami and isn’t coming back. Jackson is on the other side of the world and in no hurry to come back. Jeanie’s dad is here but may not want Phil back.

Jackson is enjoying his popularity immensely, as his agent talks of a “Phil derby.” As Phil’s old assistant, Frank Hamblen, noted, “I think he’s over in Australia, laughing and smiling and having a good old time.”

Except for Jeanie’s comments, there is no Phil “story.” With her, it was irresistible for the fans, otherwise looking at a dreary rebuilding project, and the media, which is mesmerized by celebrity and streamed into the surf like lemmings.

Jeanie’s perspective is understandable. Around here, you can’t get involved with someone geographically incompatible and going out with Phil is worse than dating someone from Orange County.


Jackson does have a lot to offer. Aside from his coaching ability and his knack for smoothing stormy seas, it would be nice symbolically for the Lakers to see someone coming, rather than fleeing.

Nevertheless, insiders say Jerry Buss’ enthusiasm doesn’t match Jeanie’s. Said a Laker official: “That’s the easiest guess in the history of the planet.”

Jackson could work with, but is leery of, Kobe Bryant. Bryant could work with, but is leery of, Jackson. Buss could bring Phil back, but, now that they’re supposed to be restoring Showtime, is leery of the triangle. (Now when they run it, they call it the “overload.”)

Most of all, if the Lakers need a coach, there’s another intriguing possibility: Larry Brown.


A source says the Lakers’ short list is Jackson, Brown and Pat Riley. Because there are issues with Jackson, and Riley turned them down last summer and swears he’s out of the coaching biz, Brown may be the most probable and the best.

Brown loves superstars (except the ones he’s coaching) and is crazy about Bryant.

Bryant venerates great coaches (except the ones coaching him) and loves Brown.

Despite Brown’s recent retractions, he’s likely to leave Detroit at season’s end. He has done all he can there and doesn’t think of it as somewhere he wants to retire.


Despite their indignation, the Pistons are all for it so they can hire someone who’ll play Darko Milicic, their unused second pick in the 2003 draft.

Brown may have his choice of coasts. However, his wife, Shelly, is from here and they have a place in Malibu, so they’re odds-on to take Kobe and the Lakers over their place in the Hamptons, Stephon Marbury and the New York Knicks.

This will leave Jackson alone atop the Knicks’ list and, hard as it is for me to believe, he may take it. Phil has always had a fascination with New York and, as much as he’s loving his world tour, wants to work.

Of course, he might not enjoy it any more than Rudy Tomjanovich enjoyed it here. Jackson, Isiah Thomas, Marbury and Jamal Crawford together would be worth the price of admission, the tabloids will only dance to Phil’s tune for so long and, serene as he is, he won’t like being eviscerated on WFAN.


Even if the Lakers are teetering around glassy-eyed, last week’s separation was a gift from heaven. Everyone loved Tomjanovich, an all-time great guy, but it was a miscalculation all around.

Rudy wasn’t who he thought he was, or who the Lakers thought he was. And the Lakers weren’t what they thought they were. Aside from that, it was OK.

The Lakers gave Tomjanovich way too much -- five years at $30 million for someone with no other offers? -- on the assumption that they were close enough to turn this right around with a great coach, and that he was one.

Tomjanovich did a job for the ages in Houston, where he breathed life into the moribund Rockets, survived three elimination games and won the 1994 title. A year later with the bottom falling out, he ripped his team up, traded for Clyde Drexler, finished sixth in the West, survived four more elimination games (two on the road), and repeated.


Nevertheless, that was Houston, where he had a comfort level and Hakeem Olajuwon. If he ran everything through Olajuwon and it was a little basic, it was OK because Hakeem was the game’s greatest inside presence.

Doing it with Bryant out on the floor didn’t work. The Lakers had no inside presence and took 23 three-point shots a game.

In Hamblen’s three games, they cut their threes to an average of 14 and Lamar Odom suddenly began taking the ball to the basket as if he meant it, looking like the player they thought they were getting, at last.

The Lakers have to do it the way Jackson did it in Chicago, posting up Bryant as the Bulls did with Michael Jordan.


Hamblen’s problem is getting the job just in time for their schedule crunch, with no Kobe. Nevertheless, he has already put his stamp on this team and should be part of whatever comes next.

(By the way, Hamblen was on Brown’s staff in Denver.)

Brown would be great for Bryant, who needs direction but picks his own mentors. With Brown, he’ll get all the direction he needs, and then some, from a man he respects.

Brown would be great for the Lakers. He’s a short-term turnaround artist and they have a short-term problem: What to do for two or three seasons until they have cap room. The Lakers should sign him short-term, say $15 million for two seasons with a two-way option for a third, for both the team and Brown. Larry absolutely won’t stick around for the money if things aren’t going well. He can get money anywhere.


(I’m sure Dr. Buss doesn’t mind if I get the negotiations out of the way and, besides, he’s paying Rudy a lot not to coach.)

Of course, they have to tell Brown he can’t trade Bryant or Odom for George Lynch or Eric Snow or especially Derrick Coleman and don’t even think about Elden Campbell. Brown’s friend and former boss in Indiana, Donnie Walsh, once said if you make every deal Larry wants, you’ll trade all your players and wind up getting them all back.

Brown will coach for two or three years. The Lakers will go for the usual rocket ride. Then, if (when) it’s time for him to go, it’s 2007 or 2008, when their cap room comes up.

This makes so much sense that, despite all the things that have to break right, it could actually happen.


We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming, “The Thunder from Down Under.” It’s one of those nostalgia shows so popular in Lakerdom these days.

Faces and Figures

The wheels came off again in Minnesota, where the Timberwolves seemed to be on their way back after a 4-0 spurt, but are 0-5 since, with four of the losses at home. Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell, upset about their contracts, are down from a combined 37 points a game last season to 28. Even Kevin Garnett looked discouraged, averaging 17.5 over the last four, and not talking his usual trash. “He was awfully quiet,” Steven Hunter said after the Phoenix Suns beat the Timberwolves. “Tonight, I didn’t see the same passion for the game. It showed on his face.”

Houston Coach Jeff Van Gundy on Tomjanovich’s resignation: “I don’t think Rudy’s thoughts are far from a lot of coaches’ minds, mine included: Is it worth it? Everyone has to do it their own way. I applaud his courage to do it his way, not to worry about what is going to be talked about. Man’s greatest right is the right to change his mind.... The losing is more miserable today, and if he said the winning is less enjoyable, he’s absolutely right. Here I am. I was average, maybe, at TV [as a TNT commentator]. But it was wholly enjoyable to sit over there, throw out a few opinions -- ‘Yeah, that was a good play; hey, where we eating?’ That was my life. To say I never reflect back on my decision to leave or come back, I do.”


New Jersey’s Rodney Buford to teammate Vince Carter, after his highlight-reel, 360-degree finger roll against the Lakers: “Hey, can I get your autograph?” ... The Bulls, who started 0-9, then went on an 18-4 spurt, are struggling again and Coach Scott Skiles is asking the Chicago media to hold the applause. “We’re not an 0-9 team, but we’re not an 18-4 team either,” he said. “I understand the desperation to want to jump on the bandwagon after such a long period of inadequate play, but we still need to keep it in perspective.”

Boston Celtic Coach Doc Rivers, on speculation Gary Payton, an upcoming free agent who has been going back and forth from the West Coast to see his family, will be traded: “We know what we want to do. We want Gary back, I can tell you that without any thought or hesitation. But I’m going to do what’s right for the team and I want to do what’s right for Gary at the same time. He’s been so good.” In other words: Give us anything and he’s yours.

Orlando Magic officials say they’ll probably sign Coach Johnny Davis, who’s on an expiring contract, to a three-year extension -- but not until after the season. Meanwhile, General Manager John Weisbrod says he wants the Magic to be a team that “does some damage in the playoffs.” In other words: If the Magic loses in the first round, Davis is so out of there.

Washington’s Eddie Jordan, whose Wizards have the No. 2 offense, asked about his No. 30 defense: “We’re not 31?”