A Jason Gay Ol’ Time (The Great Laker Freakout Edition)

The Wall Street Journal’s redoubtable Jason Gay submitted this column in Monday’s edition of the paper:

The Great Laker Freakout

Who’s ready to give a big whoop about the discombobulated Los Angeles Lakers? Not me! It’s November, buster. Waaaay too early for a basketball psychodrama. The NBA doesn’t really become the NBA until spring, when the daffodils bloom, birds return from their Arizona timeshares and Hollywood begins releasing really bad 3-D movies about supernatural cats that talk to dogs and play classical piano.

But here we are, trapped in another Lakers group therapy meeting. On Friday, Los Angeles fired its coach, Mike Brown, after only five games. This was like firing water for not turning itself into Chardonnay. The Lakers have a revamped roster, a new offense and a starting point guard on the bench with a small fracture in his leg. Los Angeles did begin 1-4, but a basketball regular season is a six-month, 82-game slog. Patience would have been advisable, even admirable. Patience didn’t happen.

Everyone, including Gay, expected Phil Jackson would happen. Gay notes that the Lakers revolve around Kobe Bryant, now “an old 34, having joined the NBA straight out of the fifth grade.”

Which leads us, naturally, to Phil Jackson, the Lakers’s In-Case-of-Emergency-Break-Glass legend. Jackson was courtside for every one of Bryant’s and [Michael] Jordan’s rings, and last was seen coaching when the Lakers were cheap-shotting their way out of the 2011 playoffs versus Dallas. That was sad, like watching Obi-Wan Kenobi selling used lightsabers on QVC. Bryant, who played through injury that season, said the other day of that embarrassment: “He’s too great of a coach to go out that way.”

Gay clearly thought Jackson would get a third act with the Lakers (“At this point, Jackson could demand that ‘Hannah and Her Sisters’ be re-imagined as an Oliver Stone musical, and Los Angeles would greenlight the check. This narrative has already been written. The Lakers sound All In for Zen.”)

But . . . surprise! The Lakers hired Mike D’Antoni, who has coached the Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks to exactly zero championships.

Gay’s follow-up moonwalk:

D’Antoni’s L.A. installation is (sort of) a surprise. Many people went to bed Sunday assuming the Lakers were closing in on hiring Phil Jackson to coach the team for a third time. The franchise reportedly wanted it; Jackson was said to want it; the return of the Zen Master had the blessing of the Lakers’ best player, Kobe Bryant, who won all of his five rings with Jackson on the bench.

Phil made sense. Phil had to happen. Then Phil didn’t happen. At the moment there’s confusion—did Jackson overreach with demands? Were the Lakers unconvinced that Jackson’s fabled “triangle offense” was the answer for this revamped roster, which includes center Dwight Howard? For a day or three, the story in Los Angeles won’t be that D’Antoni got the job. It will be that Jackson did not.

The hardworking staff just cancelled it tickets to Oliver Stone’s Hannah and Her Sisters: The Musical.

What a shame.


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