1. The Lakers Should Have Only Two Choices
Marc SteinMarc Stein [ARCHIVE]
ESPN.com
Originally Published: Nov 9, 2012
Phil Jackson, Mike D'Antoni
Getty ImagesOption A: Phil Jackson. Option B: Mike D'Antoni. Take your pick, Lakers.

The only way to validate the third-fastest axing in NBA history, to make sense of that head-spinning swiftness, is to replace the fired coach with a bigger, better option who instantly can turn Lakerland into a much happier place.

And there are just two names, of the near-dozen in circulation as potential replacements for Mike Brown, capable of leading the Lakers to that sort of speedy transformation.

Phil Jackson.

And Mike D'Antoni.

That's it.

Of all the coaches who've been proposed as successors to a Brown reign that spanned just 71 regular-season games, L.A. has to emerge next week with either Jackson or D'Antoni as the new boss to prevent further, lasting disarray for the only team on the NBA map with a $100 million payroll. Now that the Princeton offense is thankfully a memory, this breaks down as a simple two-man game.

The appeal of Jackson doesn't require much elaboration. No coach has ever won more rings or managed superstars with a defter touch. No other coach in the sport could bring as much clout to work every day. As Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak confirmed at Friday afternoon's hastily arranged news conference, he's obligated to see whether the 11-ringed Zen Master can be lured back to the Lakers' bench for a third run in charge now that Dwight Howard and Steve Nash have been imported since the limp, chaotic way it all ended for Phil in L.A. in the 2011 playoffs.

But if the Lakers can't convince him to be their Billy Martin-esque panacea? If Jeanie Buss hasn't already helped Jackson, her longtime paramour, and Jim Buss, her brother, forget all about their chilly parting two summers back to prearrange Phil's soon-to-be-announced triumphant return? If the 67-year-old feels it's wiser, for his long-term health, to take a pass?

D'Antoni has to be the guy.

D'Antoni has the connections with Nash and Kobe Bryant to start restoring some semblance of organizational unity. He would install the sort of offense to energize the guys who have been rolling their eyes at Brown and entertain the demanding customers paying Hollywood prices who remain forever partial to Showtime. He would hush the skeptics who say his teams don't play enough D to win rings because he's never had a team with a deterrent like Howard at the rim playing goalie. And he would find this megamarket to be friendlier, slightly more Phoenix-like, than the Madison Square Garden scene with its pushy press.

While it's true that the Lakers don't yet know how Howard compares to Amar'e Stoudemire as a roll man next to Nash and that they lack the cadre of shooters seen in Phoenix to fan out to the corners, D'Antoni is a far better fit than anyone else outside of Jackson you want to suggest. Coaching in the Southern California glare would be a shock to Jerry Sloan's system. Nate McMillan's teams have always ranked at the bottom of the league in pace, which won't play with the crowds that congregate at Staples Center. Reuniting Stan Van Gundy with Howard so soon is thoroughly, laughably impossible. And Jeff Van Gundy -- who, as we've covered before, has been quietly admired by the Lakers for some time -- is too close to Stan.

You likewise can scratch the idea of a young coaching prospect -- Brian Shaw, Chuck Person or, yes, Derek Fisher -- coming into this win-now situation after Jim Buss had to fire another big-bucks coach that didn't last 82 games after Jerry Buss' son handpicked him. (It happened with Rudy Tomjanovich just 43 games into the 2004-05 season and has happened again after Buss personally selected Brown over Rick Adelman.)

I've said it countless times and believe it more about modern sport with each passing year: Nothing matters more to a coach's success than his players. But the level of buy-in a coach commands -- how much respect he generates -- is a clear-cut No. 2 on the list of ingredients for success. X's and O's? A distant third because you always can find a good assistant or two, Larry Bird-style, to fill in the tactical holes.

Jackson naturally would have instant buy-in from all the Lakers' stars, starting with the holdovers (Kobe and Pau Gasol) who continue to routinely quote him to this day and especially from the big man (Howard) who hasn't won anything yet. That's all a given no matter how spent the Lakers and particularly Jackson looked at the end of his last stint two years ago.

Yet I'm convinced D'Antoni could count on a healthy dose of buy-in, too, even without a championship on his résumé, thanks to support that would trickle down from the point guard he helped win two MVP trophies (Nash) and a relationship with Bryant that dates back to Kobe's father's days playing against him in Italy.

As shocked as you might have been to see Brown canned two weeks before Thanksgiving, seeing anyone other than Jackson or D'Antoni take over would be the far bigger surprise.

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