Who Will Be the Heir to Jackson’s Throne?

The Los Angeles Lakers have a daunting task this off-season.  It is not the likely changes that will be made to the roster.  The daunting task is the decision that Jerry Buss and Mitch Kupchak will make to replace the most successful coach in professional basketball history, Phil Jackson.  The vacancy is highly attractable, as being named the head coach of the Lakers represents reaching the mountain top in any coach’s career.  The history and success of the organization appeals to the masses.

Therefore, it isn’t surprising that potential candidates for the job seem to pop up in the rumor world every day.  Although Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Dunleavy are making headlines and are no doubt qualified, there are two candidates who seem to be the frontrunners of the pack.  They are current Lakers assistant, Brian Shaw, and former NBA coach, Rick Adelman.

Rick Adelman has previously served as a head coach for the Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings, and the Houston Rockets.  Adelman has a total of eighteen years of coaching experience in the NBA.  He is ranked as the sixth highest for the most wins as a coach in the NBA with an overall record of 860-537. Adelman has a great deal of experience with the Lakers, as an opposing coach.  Adelman was the head coach of the Sacramento Kings when they faced the Lakers that resulted in some of the most exciting and entertaining games in the past eleven or twelve years, especially in the playoffs.

Adelman’s coaching method is different to what Phil Jackson employed with the Lakers and the Chicago Bulls.  He finds the players’ strengths and then builds the team around that.  However, there are two similarities of Adelman and Jackson.  They are both considered great coaching leaders and are proven winners.  Adelman and Jackson have led their respected teams to the postseason on numerous occasions.

The overall frontrunner for replacing Jackson is Brian Shaw.  Shaw had a successful playing career in the NBA that spanned for fourteen years, ultimately winning the championship three times with the Lakers during their three-peat dynasty of the new millennium.  Upon retirement, Shaw was hired as an assistant for Phil Jackson in 2004.  As a player he created an impression with the Lakers’ organization and Phil Jackson, which turned into a fruitful career as an assistant, which can possibly lead him to the highest level of coaching.

Shaw already has the endorsement from several Lakers, such as Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant.  He has spent the last seven seasons watching and learning from Phil Jackson.  He has analyzed what has worked and what hasn’t.  He has built a trusting relationship with Kobe Bryant.  He would carry over his interpretations of Jackson’s methods, while applying his own style.  The transition of the new head coach would be smoother if Shaw was chosen.  The team already trusts him and will know exactly where they will stand.  Shaw is still the number one candidate because of the Lakers’ reputation of being loyal to one of their own.

No matter who is hired as Jackson’s replacement, it will result in criticism by some and content by others.  That is the normal reaction to replacing someone who has reached the unreachable.  This goes for all sports, not just the NBA.  The UCLA Bruins had John Wooden.  The Green Bay Packers had Vince Lombardi.  No coach for these respected teams has seen the same success as Wooden or Lombardi achieved.  Even though UCLA and Green Bay has seen success with other coaches, not one coach has created and been a part of a pure dynasty that these two exemplary leaders did during their reign.

Similarly, the Los Angeles Lakers had Phil Jackson.  He established two separate dynasties with two different teams during his tenure with the Lakers.  Whoever is named as Jackson’s heir is stepping into a deep shadow, a shadow of greatness.  Some are saying it is the end of an era for the Lakers.  However, in sports you must never say never.  Next season is a time for rebuilding and redemption.  Jackson’s replacement most likely won’t reach the stature of the Zen Master, but he will absolutely have a chance to lead the team to more championships.  If you are in the same sentence as Phil Jackson, that’s not a bad place to be.

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