In what should not come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention, the Los Angeles Lakers are once again turning to Phil Jackson for advice on how to proceed, this time with their ongoing coaching search.
The Athletic reported in March that Jackson “has been in frequent contact with [Lakers governor Jeanie] Buss about team matters all season long,” and so it isn’t shocking that the team’s perpetually insular brain trust is once again turning inward for more advice from yet another figure from the organization’s past successes.
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN had the report during the Tuesday edition of “NBA Today” on the four-letter network (emphasis mine):
“This is very much a committee in L.A. putting together this coaching search. And one person who is certainly significantly involved in this process is Phil Jackson. He’s got a voice in this. He did last time when they hired Frank Vogel. He and Kurt Rambis, (Vogel) had been somebody they had considered with the Knicks before hiring Derek Fisher in New York... They’re moving deliberately. They’re not doing seven or eight or nine candidates all at once. They’re kind of going down a list and taking their time with it. I think that process is going to take a bit.”
Jackson, who was previously engaged to Buss, was the Lakers’ head coach from 1999 to 2011, only taking one season off in between his two stints (the 2004-05 campaign). He stewarded the team to five championships and seven NBA Finals appearances and has won 11 titles as a coach.
The Zen Master’s reappearance from his Montana ranch via viral tweet amidst a cloud of sage smoke will surely lead to a bunch of alarm bells, but again, it’s not really a shock that he is making his voice heard in Los Angeles again. Between his close friendship with his longtime mentee Kurt Rambis and his lengthy relationship with Buss, his advice was always going to get asked for here.
And while Jackson’s disastrous tenure in New York will lead to panic in some corners about this — perhaps justifiably! — there are also reasons to believe his instincts and input aren’t a worst-case scenario here. The man was not a good executive. This much we know, and is a fair criticism. But he is one of the most brilliant coaches ever, and until we hear that he’s advising the Lakers on, like, who to sign to veteran’s minimum contracts or who to draft, it’s not necessarily worth freaking out about this.
Jackson’s advice and what many Lakers fans want also may not be mutually exclusive. Because while his “how’s it goink” tweets and entire Knicks tenure may have lent credence to the idea that his basketball views are a little archaic or outdated for the way the game has evolved, there is reason to believe that he still has a good sense for who good coaches around the league are, despite voluntarily hiring Kurt Rambis and Derek Fisher at his last job.
For one thing, as Woj noted, he was right to be a fan of Vogel, who did a great job with the roster the Lakers initially handed him before failing to be flexible enough to deal with a different style. He is also a known admire — and have mentored — Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, who is among the best bench leaders in the league.
Jackson famously advised Nurse throughout the Raptors’ 2019 title run after taking a liking to him during a multi-day retreat at Jackson’s ranch in Montana, and while the Raptors are pushing back on the idea that Nurse is available... that may change if the Lakers are willing to make it worth their while with draft picks. It’s not hard to imagine Jackson pushing for that type of scenario, which, hey, would at the very least be a better use of them than a straight-up Russell Westbrook salary dump.
In case you need more infi on Phil/Nurse: https://t.co/UoT0WPbQcb— Darius Soriano (@forumbluegold) May 3, 2022
So if you’re worried about the Lakers’ continuing habit of only leaning on people they know instead of people having success currently, that’s a fair concern. But it’s also fair to note that this may not be a DEFCON-1 emergency yet, because:
a) again, we don’t know exactly how much influence Phil has, or what he’s arguing for, and...
b) this might be the one area where he still has a few good ideas.
Now, with all that said, if he starts pushing for Kurt to coach or something equally, apocalyptically stupid, then you can panic. But this, on its face, isn’t the worst thing in the world until we know a little more about what kind of advice he’s giving.
And hey, as low of a bar as this is to clear, he’s a far more qualified basketball voice for Buss to lean on than the Rambii (and, honestly, maybe Rob Pelinka). Again, would it be better for Buss to seek some currently successful people to make these decisions instead of leaning on voices who haven’t proven as much in recent years? Probably! But people trust who they trust. It’s human nature. And so for as much of an indictment as this could be seen as, I’d still trust Phil’s ideas over a few of the people on the actual payroll. That’s not great long-term, but it means things could be worse, I guess.