Lakers gain closure with Phil Jackson’s departure to New York

Should the Lakers have hired Phil Jackson to coach the team instead of Mike D’Antoni in 2012? Will the team fire D’Antoni for Jackson? Why won’t owner/executive Jim Buss hire Jackson to run the team’s basketball operations?

Finally those questions become moot as Jackson was officially announced as president of the New York Knicks in a news conference at Madison Square Garden.

Jackson, who won five titles with the Lakers, agreed to join the Knicks (27-40) last week with the power to shape and control the team’s roster.

Knicks owner James Dolan said that Jackson, “will be in charge of all basketball decisions.”

Jackson said he expects the team to make the playoffs this season, but also noted that he has no plans to take over for Coach Mike Woodson.


“I’m too lame to coach,” said Jackson (68 years old), after undergoing five surgeries over the last five years.

The Lakers discussed bringing back Jackson as a head coach in 2012, but before Jackson was able to decide whether he was ready for the position, the Lakers hired D’Antoni.

Jackson may have been leaning toward turning away the (brief) opportunity with the Lakers, recently recovering from prostate and knee surgeries.

By bringing Jackson into the conversation, and in turn rejecting him, the Lakers managed to undercut D’Antoni before he coached a single game.

Deposed coach Mike Brown, now with the Cleveland Cavaliers, should have served the buffer as the irreplaceable Jackson’s replacement.

Instead of D’Antoni just succeeding Brown, the flirtation with Jackson only reinforced that D’Antoni wasn’t the Hall of Fame coach who led Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and, later, Pau Gasol to multiple titles.

Injuries in 2012-13, and a risky roster with newcomers Steve Nash and free-agent-to-be Dwight Howard, didn’t pan out. Howard departed for the Houston Rockets and Bryant has missed nearly the entire 2013-14 season. The Lakers are currently in 14th place in the Western Conference at 22-44.

Lakers owner/executive Jim Buss could have brought on Jackson to run the Lakers, but the Buss family is following the roadmap of late patriarch Jerry Buss -- who wanted Jim to manage the basketball operations and Jeanie Buss, Jackson’s fiancée, to control the team’s business operations.

Jim Buss wasn’t going to hand his own job over to Jackson, and then pay him $12 million a year to boot.

The Lakers should have a high draft pick in the 2014 NBA draft. The franchise stands to have tremendous spending power over the next three summers, depending on how they approach free agency.

The Lakers and Knicks could find themselves competing for the same free agents in 2015, perhaps LeBron James, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol and/or Rajon Rondo. The 2016 free agent class could be headlined by Kevin Durant.

“This is the best place to play basketball,” said Jackson on Tuesday of New York.

He also said Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak sent him a congratulatory note, thanking Jackson for what he achieved with the Lakers -- and wishing him luck in his new venture with the Knicks.

The future for the Lakers, and the Knicks, are unclear -- but at least the Lakers gain closure with Jackson.

D’Antoni has another fully guaranteed year on his contract with the Lakers -- although the Lakers will evaluate over the off-season if a change is needed.

Jackson may not have been part of the Lakers’ equation since the decision in 2012, but at least now, the fans waiting for Jackson will have little choice but to move on.

Jim Buss will have the opportunity to build his reputation over the next few years but he has a lot to live up to given his father’s legacy.

Now he’ll be judged against every success Jackson has in New York.


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