After the Los Angeles Lakers officially parted ways with head coach Mike Brown last season, 11-time NBA champion Phil Jackson was dubbed the favorite to become the team’s next leader on the sidelines. Although Jackson had said he had no intention to return to coaching in the NBA in the past, the Zen Master expressed considerable interest in returning to the Lakers for a third tour.
Ultimately, the Lakers’ front office decided to go in an entirely different direction by hiring Mike D’Antoni instead. The hiring of D’Antoni took everyone by surprise, angered most fans and resulted in a disappointing end to season filled with injuries and failed expectations.
According to Ric Bucher of The Hollywood Reporter, an unnamed source says Phil would’ve been hired by the Lakers had Dr. Jerry Buss been healthy:
“The Lakers went into that week prepared to offer the job to Phil,” says one source. “Dr. Buss may have rubber-stamped [the D'Antoni hiring], but he clearly wasn’t at the helm. If he had been healthy and involved, that never would’ve happened.”
Before the Lakers had officially made the announcement of D’Antoni’s hiring to replace Brown, it was Phil’s job to lose with numerous reports of the team going all in to bring him back. It appeared to be only a matter of time before he was hired for a third tour. Jackson was said to be mulling over the decision to return, but it was basically a foregone conclusion that he’d be back on the bench if the team met his terms.
It comes as no surprise that a healthy Dr. Buss would’ve changed the outcome of the coaching search for the Lakers. Jim Buss and Phil haven’t exactly seen eye-to-eye over the years and the Lakers Executive VP clearly wanted to take the team in a new direction, but Dr. Buss has always had confidence in Jackson’s ability.
After leading the Lakers to five NBA titles during his time in Los Angeles, it’s hard to argue that Phil wasn’t the right man for the job. Dwight Howard also asked for Phil to coach this team earlier in the season, but the front office still decided to go with D’Antoni.
It’d be safe to say at this point in time that if the Lakers’ front office was given another to make a different decision, Phil would’ve been the coach of this team last season and for the foreseeable future. Dwight might’ve also decided to stay.