Even Phil Jackson Wouldn’t Save These Aging, Injury-Ridden Lakers

NBA: New York Knicks at Boston CelticsOn the bright side for Lakers fans, your long nightmare is over, at least unofficially.

Darius Morris and Jodie Meeks starting Games 3-4?

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Let the recriminations begin!

In fact, Lakerdom is standing by, waiting to hear when Mike D’Antoni gets fired and Phil Jackson returns.

If this isn’t New York City and we don’t eat our own on a daily basis, Lakerdom has never been this bloodthirsty.

Of course, the team was never swept in the first round—oh, right, potentially—with a new owner, a new coach and a 34-year-old franchise player tearing his Achilles.

Unfortunately, I have double-barreled bad news:

D’Antoni’s not going anywhere and Jackson’s not coming back.

Make that triple-barreled: If Mike did go and Phil did come back, it wouldn’t make all that much difference.

Jackson would surely have been better this season with an offense that works with two bigs, representing no cultural clash as D’Antoni did.

Not that Jackson would have been likely to win a title with an even older, slower team than the one swept by Dallas in his 2011 farewell… to say nothing of what would have befallen Phil with Kobe out and Nash on one leg.

Beyond that, human dynamics make Zen Master Round III beyond improbable, in the direction of impossible.

To coach the Lakers, who—Jackson thought–led him on, Jim Buss would have to come crawling on his belly.

Jim Buss isn’t coming crawling on his belly.

Despite my high regard for Phil, I don’t see why Jim should come crawling.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Denver NuggetsLaker fans’ yearning for Jackson is inevitable, given his success, having already come and gone twice and getting this close to a third term.

Only at the 11th hour and 59th minute did Jerry Buss, in what amounted to his last major decision, switch to D’Antoni.

Other things may have come into it, like the dying owner’s fear that Phil and Jeanie could tilt the Jim-Jeanie balance he had designed.

But Dr. Buss also wanted to go back to Showtime—as he tried to do with Rudy T in 2004, before finding himself obliged to rehire Phil in 2005.

Of course, Laker fans would also like Jim to take the rest of his life off.

Good luck with that one. In the NBA and all other leagues, you’re stuck with the owner you’ve got unless he cashes out, like the Maloofs, at which point you should be grateful if the franchise is still there, as it may no longer be in Sacramento.

When Jim came aboard, titularly, at least, in 1998, he had the sophistication of a caller to a talk show.

Showing his disdain for the process, and an utter lack of clues about what you confide to the press, he told Sports Illustrated’s Franz Lidz, “If you grabbed 10 fans out of a bar and asked them to rate prospects, their opinions would be pretty much identical to those of the pro scouts.”

Having been in more bars than war rooms, Jim knew not whereof he spoke.

In those days, I used to compare Jerry Buss’s blueprint to Jed Clampett turning over the Beverly Hillbillies to not-too-swift Cousin Jethro.

Jerry could hardly have appreciated it but he was once heard kidding Jim, calling him “Jethro.”

Fifteen years of on-the-job training later, Jim has gone from a bystander removed from the process to part of it.

If he came in with the usual talk-show-off-with-his-head orientation toward GM Mitch Kupchak, they became an effective team, shown most clearly in 2005 when Jim went to bat with his father to draft Mitch’s dark horse prep, Andrew Bynum, who would one day be an All-Star starter.

Of course, Jim hired Mike Brown… but the Warriors wanted to, too… not to mention Dan Gilbert, the Cavs owner, who has hired him twice.

At its heart, underlying Laker fans’ yearning for Jackson is their hope for a savior.

Beyond the fact that D’Antoni never had a chance this season, arriving late to take over an old, slow, hulking, injury-riddled team, it’s loony tunes to even think of replacing him.

Phil JacksonThe Lakers’ problem isn’t coaching.

People have been noting how big, old and slow they have become for three seasons, and they haven’t sped up, or gotten any younger in the process.

OK, Dwight Howard is more athletic than Bynum was.

Derek Fisher was replaced by even-older-at-39 Nash. Their best sub, Antawn Jamison, soon turns 37.

Despite the need for new blood, the team has been constrained by its salary cap and $99.9 million payroll. It took a minor miracle—starting with Nash’s unexpected change of heart—to start this season with expectations of glory.

The cap problem will end—after next season–when all contracts expire except those of Nash, and, they hope, Howard.

In the meantime, they have two choices: 1) Keep playing big and slow, or 2) move Pau Gasol, their lone player with trade value, for someone younger and faster.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, the Lakers are at a generational crossroads

It’s not impossible they can make it work with a healthy Kobe and Nash, although it’s hardly a given, either.

Nevertheless, one very positive thing happened for the Lakers: Howard bought in, even if it took half the season

Assuming we’re getting a true reading—all that’s possible since he won’t discuss it and even his agent claims not to know—Dwight will re-up this summer.

So, the Lakers have a future, after all!

Now their fans just have to hope they live to see it.

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