Jim Buss has Lakers power, kept it and used it to hire D’Antoni

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The idea Phil Jackson was the clear frontrunner for the Lakers head coaching job was not some media creation or fan fiction — everyone around the team said Jackson was the lead candidate.

From the start if felt odd — if you were around and felt the distaste between Jackson and Jim Buss (the guy running the basketball side of Lakers for his father Jerry) it seemed odd they would work together again. Especially after Jackson left and Buss cleaned house and long-time guys like assistant GM Ronnie Lester were let go.

Yet Jackson and Buss met last Saturday and — because Jackson likes to take his time and think over decisions — he asked for time until Monday to go over a final answer and discuss terms. At least that’s what all the parties are saying about compensation. I mean, Jim Buss, Mitch Kupchak and Jackson worked together for most of the dozen years Jackson was with the Lakers, you think there was a ton of things to discuss about how he would coach the team? You really think there was no discussion of money and what else he would want to return?

Then Jackson got a midnight phone call late Sunday telling him the Lakers were going with Mike D’Antoni.

Why the switch? It’s all a power play by both sides, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

Jackson wanted to humiliate Lakers vice president Jim Buss far more than he wanted to coach the team. He wanted significant allowances on travel, coaching duties and an ability to veto player personnel moves that didn’t fit his vision. With an unprecedented 11 coaching championships, Jackson had every right to make unprecedented demands. He doesn’t have the right to be surprised when the Lakers rejected them and hired a pliable, cheaper coach in Mike D’Antoni.

“Phil wanted Jim Buss to walk away with his tail between his legs,” one source with knowledge of the discussions told Yahoo! Sports. “He thought he had time to still negotiate with them, and see how much they would give him.”

Jim Buss had the power and wanted to keep it. D’Antoni was his guy. Both sides still deny Jackson’s demands were the issue. Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t.

But another big question remains — why talk to Jackson and let a lot of people know he’s the front runner, why get fans hopes up, if you weren’t going to offer him the job? Buss is smart enough to know the fans wanted Jackson and if he became the clear front-runner anyone else — even a quality coach like D’Antoni — would come off as the consolation prize. Why go down that road?

Kevin Ding at the Orange County Register has a great answer for that in his breakdown of what happened.

The hour and a half at Jackson’s home in Playa del Rey ended with handshakes – but there is evidence to support the belief that it began with the Lakers’ brass never really expecting Jackson to want the job.

When Jackson and Kupchak had a casual lunch just two months ago, Jackson said he didn’t think he ever wanted to coach again. (When Kupchak reminded him of that in the Saturday meeting, Jackson explained that the earlier debate didn’t include all these real and attractive details with his old team in his adopted home, Bryant and Pau Gasol joined now by Dwight Howard and Steve Nash.)…

So maybe the Lakers went into this process planning a token gesture toward Jackson that they could present to the fans: “See, we did try for Phil again – with Jim even proving there are no hard feelings by making the overture personally – and Phil isn’t interested, sorry. Everybody get excited for Mike D’Antoni!”

That seems very plausible.

But it still comes back to the Lakers front office seemed to not have a plan in place from the start, from before they came to the decision to fire Mike Brown. This could all work out — Pat Riley and Paul Westhead both had to take over the Lakers when the season had already started and won titles in their first years as the Lakers head man.

The challenge for D’Antoni is that he is going to have that expectation over his head now — the Lakers fired Mike Brown saying it was all about winning titles, then didn’t hire the coach with 11 rings. For whatever reason.

No pressure, Mike.

Magic Johnson: “The only player that we… would probably not move is Brandon Ingram”

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The Lakers’ Brandon Ingram had flashes, but he largely struggled through his rookie season. He averaged 9.4 points per game, shot 40 percent from the floor, he had a true shooting percentage of 47.4 and a PER of 8.5, and he finished with the fifth worst “value over replacement player” number in the NBA. Watch him play, and he looked better than those numbers — he did better with the “eye test” — showing some tenacity, and his offense improved toward the end of the season. Still, his rookie season tempered expectations somewhat.

Except amongst the Lakers’ front office.

They have been high on him all the way through, higher than D'Angelo Russell, and that’s what Lakers president Magic Johnson said on ESPN Radio in Los Angeles.

“I would say probably the only player that we would say, hey, we would probably not move is Brandon Ingram,” Johnson, the Lakers president of basketball operations said Thursday in a radio interview with ESPN Los Angeles. “I think that we’re excited about Brandon, his length, his size, his agility, his athleticism. And then when you think about, you know, he was a baby coming in, in his first year last season and we see that he really has a high ceiling and we’re excited about what he can possibly turn into.”

First off, no this doesn’t mean if the Lakers draft Lonzo Ball No. 2 (as expected) they will look to trade Russell. Expect them to see if those two can play together. It means the Lakers think just one of the guys on the roster is a potential key piece of a contender. Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and on down the line may fit into the rotation, but they are not seen as cornerstone pieces that can’t be moved.

Is Ingram really a cornerstone? The jury is still out, but does anyone feel as confident he will be a star as they did a season ago when he was drafted?

Ingram certainly needs to get stronger, something the team and he have worked on (and will focus on this summer). He also was young coming into the league, and with his style of game it was going to take him a little time to find how he fit in the NBA. He wasn’t going to come in and just overwhelm opponents with athleticism, it was going to be a process for him. Like nearly every rookie, his shooting needs to be more consistent.

The questions are how high is his ceiling, and can the Lakers develop him?

This summer and into next season those will come into focus more, but the early returns don’t have some of us as optimistic as Magic.

Josh McRoberts opting into final year of Heat contract

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Heat power forward Josh McRoberts has missed 165 games over the last three years due to injury.

So, the 30-year-old sure isn’t turning down a guaranteed $6,021,175 salary.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

Any long shot chance of Josh McRoberts voiding his Heat contract was eliminated Tuesday when agent Mike Conley told The Miami Herald that McRoberts will exercise his opt-in and return to the Heat for $6.021 million next season.

Miami will have major cap space this summer with Chris Bosh coming off the books. At this point, McRoberts’ salary is just an impediment to even more room to add an impact player.

The Heat could again try trading McRoberts, but they’ll likely have to attach a positive asset just to dump him. They could also waive and stretch him.

But if his salary doesn’t come between Miami and a big-time free agent this summer, perhaps McRoberts returns for one last chance at helping the Heat on the floor with his passing and outside shooting.

Mike Brown thinks it’s “cute” Tyronn Lue thinks Celtics’ sets harder to defend than Warriors

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Celtics’ coach Brad Steven is already one of the best in the NBA. His out of time out plays are brilliant, and his Boston team’s flow of ball and player movement is among the best in the league.

It’s those things that were giving the Cavaliers trouble in the first half of Game 4 Tuesday, and ultimately prompted this comment from Tyronn Lue.

“We’re just focused on Boston. The stuff they’re running, it’s harder to defend than Golden State’s [offense] for me.”

Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle asked Mike Brown about that.

You can certainly make the case that the Celtics have a wider variety in their offense, and that with Isaiah Thomas out the rather balanced, anyone can score nature of the Celtics is challenging to defend for a team with inconsistent help defense like the Cavaliers.

But Boston is running these sets with Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown and Kelly Olynyk. Golden State will use ball and player movement to create space for Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Which is to say, Golden State is tougher to defend because the space they need to make you pay is much smaller. And even if you do everything right the Warriors may just score anyway.

I get what Lue was trying to say, but don’t give the Warriors more motivation.

Magic sending Raptors draft pick as compensation for hiring Jeff Weltman

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The Raptors promoted Jeff Weltman, still working under Masai Ujiri, to general manager last year.

That paid off for Toronto when the Magic hired Weltman as their new president.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

The Magic have their own and the Lakers’ second-round picks next year. Even the lower of those two selections could be somewhat valuable.

In other words, Weltman’s already-difficult job is getting even harder simply by Orlando hiring him.