With Phil Jackson back, so are Lakers
Hours after the opening of the richest swap meet in sports history, the most valuable trinket is already gone.
I don’t care who signs LeBron James, it won’t be the NBA’s best team now that Phil Jackson is back with the Lakers.
Moments into the summer of flying young millionaires, the most important money has already gone to the old guy who can barely walk.
I don’t care if one team is dynamic enough to sign the duo of Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, it won’t be favored over Phil Jackson’s Lakers.
At the outset of a potentially historic month of NBA moves, the Lakers have just made The Move. With everyone preparing for all-star musical chairs, the Lakers have just cleared the room and ended the game.
It doesn’t matter what happens with any other team or any other player. It doesn’t matter who is declared winners or losers, richer or poorer, hot or not.
The rest of the summer will be little more than expensive calisthenics, because Phil Jackson is back, meaning the Lakers are back, meaning everyone else will once again chase.
Phil Jackson is back, and so is Derek Fisher’s presence, Kobe Bryant’s head, Ron Artest’s focus, Pau Gasol’s resiliency, Andrew Bynum’s grit and that Staples Center swagger.
There is no guarantee that the Lakers will win a third consecutive championship with Jackson. But I can guarantee that they would not have won a third one without him.
Byron Scott is filled with Lakers legacy, but did he have enough credibility to coach Bryant? Brian Shaw is deep with Jackson smarts, but did he have enough experience to coax Artest? Who else has the quiet strength to control this seemingly destined, yet fragile run toward a record-tying 17th Lakers title? Who else can combine that with a nutty Hollywood brashness that resulted in an e-mail to The Times’ Mike Bresnahan that noted this was really all about a personal 12th championship?
“I got a message from on high … that said, ‘Phil, you’ve got to come back, there is a need to fulfill the prophecy. You know 12 is a holy number, and 11 just doesn’t fill that,” read the e-mail.
There may have been other candidates, but there was no other choice. Lakers officials knew it, and the players knew it, and even the fans knew it.
You know last week’s silly championship parade? The one that drew about as many people as a Dodgers game, with a finish that matched last Sunday’s loss to the New York Yankees?
It might have been the only championship parade in team sports history where the players did not stop and give silly speeches to the fans at the end of the route. They rode a few blocks on a bus and quickly disappeared, almost as if it was a practice parade.
Well, maybe it was, because Phil Jackson wasn’t there, and wasn’t certain he would ever be showing up as a Laker again. Maybe some folks felt a sense of impending doom, and maybe the wildest feelings of celebration — even from the players not named Artest — was put on hold.
Well, they can party now. You can party now. The sense of relief in Laker Nation is palpable.
The struggles of the second consecutive championship did not cost the team the greatest coach in NBA history. Turns out, it only empowered him.
“Count me in,” Jackson said in the official statement released Thursday.
Count owner Jerry Buss in. As usual, despite sagging team profits, Buss decided to spend the money to keep the coach. You knew he would. You knew that if it came down to bucks, even though Jackson probably took a bit of a pay cut, Buss would figure out a way to make him happy. Buss, as usual, behaved like the best owner in sports history.
Count Jackson’s body in. That was the only other factor in his decision, but it was not surprising that his medical tests were fine. Earlier this season, he told me he felt as good as he’s ever felt. He said in his statement that the upcoming season would be his “last stand,” but he’s only 64, so I’ll believe that when I see it.
Count the Lakers culture in. Jackson’s return means that the Lakers will surely find a way to keep his beloved Derek Fisher, the curator of that culture. His return means that Bryant won’t become bigger than the team, Artest won’t be too distracted to play defense, Bynum will be too scared to slack off and Gasol will be too angry to be play soft.
Count Lamar Odom out? Maybe. Somebody has to pay for this. It might be Odom, who could be traded in a fashion such that the Buss could save enough money to pay Jackson close to last year’s $12 million.
Last summer Jackson was openly supportive of Odom’s receiving a new deal, but this summer there is a sense that the coach, like many others, is finally fed up with his big-game underachievement.
Whatever happens, the Lakers are once again happening, because Phil Jackson is back, NBA free agency being quickly dominated not by The King, but by the king
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