What's next for the Los Angeles Lakers? How do they fix what went wrong in a season with high expectations and greater disappointments? Will Dwight Howard stay in Los Angeles, taking up the responsibility of being the next franchise player once Kobe Bryant walks away? Did Mike D'Antoni find a working strategy in the second half of the season, or was it Bryant's heroics and Howard's elevated play that put a pretty bow on an otherwise terrible season.
These are all real questions the organization must answer over the Summer. This isn't just banging pots and pans in the kitchen for the sake of noise -- Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss are cooking a four-course meal for a fan base that demands the finest dining with exquisite wine pairings.
And then there's Phil Jackson. Making noise just to make noise. Being a distracting bully.
It's not that Jackson's opinion doesn't matter, or isn't interesting. He's the Zen-Master. He's coached his teams to 11 championships. He's a living piece of NBA history -- a treasure to the sport.
The issue is the Lakers, in a time of turmoil, don't need any more distractions. Yet Jackson has taken it upon himself to parade his circus of commentary around to anybody willing to listen, and there are plenty of people who want to broadcast Jackson's opinions regarding the Lakers franchise.
Every day there seems to be another snippet from Jackson. Ranging from ESPN radio interviews, to The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, to another "juicy" sentence or two from his recently published book, there's always a new Jackson quote it seems. It has taken on the form of an angry ex-boyfriend who's busy tweeting out his grievances with the woman he once loved.
It's over, keep it private.
He sits at his table reserved for two, alone. His absent date, Jeanie Buss, is behind closed doors making sure the kitchen has everything it needs to run properly. The Zen-Master jingles the ice cubes in his scotch glass and examines the amber liquid, letting out a sigh after looking up at the door labeled "Employees Only". The doors that Mike D'Antoni, Kupchak, and the rest of the Lakers organization work behind.
He takes a sip of his scotch as a paying customer then looks around at the people surrounding him in the restaurant. The man sitting next to him is alone as well and enjoying his meal. Phil clears his throat once to draw his attention but it has no affect on the man who is busy sawing off another slice of his salmon.
Drastic times call for drastic measures.
Phil slides his glass of scotch off of the table and towards the oblivious man next to him. The alcohol spills across the floor and the ice cubes melt into the deep purple carpet. "I'm so sorry, I did--"
Before Phil can finish the man looks up in shock, "You're Phil Jackson, aren't you?"
"Yes, yes I am." replies the always-recognizable former coach of the Lakers.
Phil's waiter walks over to the spilled drink and immediately begins cleaning up the mess created.
"These tables are flimsy and need to be replaced, you know. I barely moved and the table nearly fell over. Also, the scotch was terrible, don't even bother bringing me another. In fact, just bring me my bill. There's no way I'm staying here to eat." He exclaims to the waiter, who blushes, nods in acknowledgment, and scurries away.
Perhaps Phil is right. Maybe the Lakers need to take his advice and do exactly as he says to succeed. The issue is, he continues to make his comments in public forums, poking and prodding at Kupchak, Buss and Mike D'Antoni. We don't know what conversations are happening behind closed doors or on smart phones, but the public perception is he's challenging the organization.
The pressure is already on the front office to rinse away a disappointing 2012-2013 campaign, and Jackson is piling on an already tall mountain. A fan-base that is slow to buy into Jim Buss, is struggling to believe in Mike D'Antoni, faces a not-so-distant life without Kobe Bryant and is hesitant to trust in Dwight Howard to carry their favorite team in the world onward and upward is being forced to watch the last man to coach them to a championship pour 40 ounces of malt liquor at a time on the grave of a disaster of a season. Some join in and dance atop the muddy grave, others watch in horror, and it's incredibly difficult to turn away.
The man beside Phil begins cutting into his fish again and Phil rolls his eyes. "Fine," he tells himself in his mind, "I guess I'll have to initiate this conversation."
"How is your dish?" he asks.
"It's delicious. I've never had better, actually. I come here on my own every Friday after work just to enjoy a nice, quiet meal and enjoy the salmon. This place has won best restaurant in Los Angeles award 16 times, and rightfully so. I'm a life-long supporter." The man replies, finally pausing and pulling away from his dish.
"You know, I find the fish a bit... dry... and overcooked here lately. I know what this place needs, though. They need to go back to how they used to cook their fish. Did you know I used to be the head chef in that kitchen? Five of those awards were because of my cutlery excellence." Jackson informs his neighboring customer.
"I don't know about that, this seems perfectly cooked." The man replies.
Jackson scoffs at this notion, "Is it though? Is it really? Would you mind if I...."
Before he finishes his sentence Phil leans over with his knife and fork and cuts off a small chunk of salmon, then carefully places it in his mouth. He slowly chews, making awkward faces to indicate he is not enjoying the man's favorite dish in the world, then grabs his napkin, covers his face, and spits what remains of the partially-chewed salmon into the golden cloth.
"Just as I suspected, hideous. If you want to know how great things once were here -- back when I was around -- then you should read my new book 'Eleven Kitchen Knives'." He says as he tosses his napkin at the empty chair across from him where Jeanie should be sitting and rolling her eyes.
"You know... maybe you're right and this isn't as good as it used to be. Have you considered coming back? You seem to have a very strong opinion about this restaurant." The man replies.
"Who, me?! Oh no no no, I told 'ole Mitchy and Jimbo last October I had no interest in cooking again, and my stance remains unchanged." Phil says. His waiter drops off the bill and walks away.
The angling and games are exhausting. If he doesn't want to coach -- a stance he re-affirmed on ESPN Radio on Thursday -- then perhaps he should stop flirting with the concept.
More importantly, if he wants to be a part of the Lakers organization in some form of front office capacity, perhaps he should stop pissing his initials on the walls of Staples Center. Worse, he isn't even finding a dark corner to do it inconspicuously.
Phil flips the the bill open and scrounges the loose change out of his pocket to pay for the one scotch that the carpet enjoyed. Normally the restaurant wouldn't charge a customer for a spilled drink, but this particular customer has been pulling off that spilled scotch gimmick for a long time. Once a week he stops in just to air his grievances with the restaurant he once worked in, picking off an unsuspecting customer in the process.
Yes, he paid for a drink he never drank, but he got what he wanted. He took a few pop-shots at the restaurant, instilled doubt in a customer's mind, and even got to taste that delicious salmon he nearly asked for another piece of before coming back to his Zen-like senses.
He bids his neighboring salmon enthusiast farewell, puts on his coat, and begins his exit. He'll catch up with Jeanie later, she knows how this plays out every time she can't make it to dinner. It's all a routine now.
He puts his hand on the door handle, takes a deep breath, then pushes the door open and begins walking away from the restaurant.
The people of L.A. never stop filling the lobby and reservation book every evening as they wait for an available table in the restaurant, though. With or without Jackson the lights remain on, the salmon remains delicious, and the atmosphere is one-of-a-kind.
Sure, the kitchen may be a bit slower without Jackson whipping out their five-star dishes, but this is a restaurant that has been established in Los Angeles since 1960. A place that survived when their star host Magic Johnson was forced to walk away abruptly. A place that has shown an innate era-to-era ability to make the right decisions to propel the establishment forward.
Things change, but the Lakers remain the Lakers with, or without, Phil Jackson.
Now I'd appreciate if he could keep his scotch to himself and allow me to enjoy my salmon privately the next time he stops by.
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