On Sunday night it seemed sure that Phil Jackson would return to coach the Lakers.
The 11-time champion seemingly could not pass up the opportunity to coach a superstar-laden team with his familiar charges of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol along with newly acquired center Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. A chance for a championship seemed gifted to him if he could only give it that last push as he had done so many times before.
Things have changed though since Jackson last coached. He has had hip surgery and it is more difficult for him to get around. The question if Jackson coaches again is whether there will be conditions to it that will change his relationship with the team.
Those questions may have had something to do with the Lakers deciding to go with Mike D'Antoni (recovering from knee replacement surgery himself). Monday morning was a shock to everyone when the world woke up to the news that D'Antoni was the new coach of the Lakers. Most of all D'Antoni himself who reportedly said he was shocked at the decision.
To say the least, the Lakers are still somewhat of a mess and nothing will be settled until D'Antoni finally arrives and begins coaching the team. Making a team is not simple.
But if the Jackson deal was such a slam dunk and it seemed so certain that Jackson would return to the Lakers, why did the deal fall apart so quickly? Why isn't Phil Jackson the head coach of the Lakers?
A lot of those reasons likely remain in back rooms and private conversations with Lakers brass. But the reason certainly exists there.
Remember a few things about why Jackson is retired now anyway. Jackson was open to retirement, but Jim Buss was also eager to move on and make his imprint on the team as he took over for his father. There is a reason that the Lakers did not hire Jackson's heir apparent in Brian Shaw after Jackson's departure. Buss wanted to move away from the Triangle and create the Lakers somewhat in his image.
Based on that departure and the abrupt turnaround hiring D'Antoni over Jackson there might be some lingering struggles with a Phil Jackson regime from within the Buss camp.
In fact, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reports that Jackson entered negotiations trying to embarrass Buss and get as many concessions as he could as a source told Wojnarowski:
Phil wanted Jim Buss to walk away with his tail between his legs. He thought he had time to still negotiate with them, and see how much they would give him.
Those are some pretty heavy accusations from the "Zen Master." The power struggle though likely could have played a role in Jackson's deal falling apart.
Recall this summer, there was talk of Jackson possibly coaching the Magic (with Dwight Howard). The suggestion, reportedly with an offer that Scottie Pippen was leading, was that Jackson would coach limited road games and allow his assistants to take over most of the day-to-day operations. Jackson would also have more influence in the front office and a strong measure of control over the franchise and his team, but all on his schedule. Pippen would have been brought on as an assistant coach.
Yes, Pippen's name surfaced as part of any Jackson coaching staff in Los Angeles at least as a possibility. The reports were though that the Orlando idea largely came from Pippen and Jackson was not interested. His interest lay mostly on coaching a West Coast team and remaining close to his home in Montana.
Was he asking similar conditions with the Lakers?
Wojnarowski appears to suggest that he was asking for some concessions on road travel. The most important thing he was asking for though was something Buss would not give him when he retired in 2011 and would not give him now — more control over the franchise.
Phil Jackson is not the coach of the Lakers right now because of the mistrust built in Jackson's final year of coaching and Buss' desire to make the team his own. Buss' plans did not include Jackson then. And with Jackson asking for control over the team, Buss' plans do not inclue Jackson now.