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The Bronx Zoo Moves West

By Mike Silva ~ November 11th, 2012. Filed under: NBA.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Phil Jackson is the favorite to return as head coach of the Lakers. He was non-committal about his coaching future during an HBO Real Sports interview this past June. There were rumblings all summer that he would have entertained taking over the Knicks “clumsy roster” if they had called. He was connected to openings in Portland and Orlando, as well. The one team that we should have seen as the favorite is the one that he’s led to five titles during the last twelve years: the Lakers.

Jackson, if he wants it, could be the coach of the Lakers as soon as tomorrow. All signs point to that being the case, although GM Mitch Kupchak is interviewing Mike D’Antoni and Mike Dunleavy today. Back in the 70s you had the Yankees and the Bronx Zoo. Until Joe Torre took over in 1996 no manager could survive very long under George Steinbrenner. Jerry Buss might not be as vocal as Steinbrenner, but he’s created a nice chaotic mix over in LA that rivals those Yankees teams.

Instead of Billy Martin you have Phil Jackson; Shaq played the role of Reggie Jackson to Kobe’s Thurman Munson. Jackson even went one step further and is dating the boss’s daughter, which certainly helps with job security. Add in Magic Johnson, who played the triple role of Dodgers’ owner, Lakers VP and ESPN analyst to the mix. Although he is no longer officially affiliated with the Lakers, many believe Magic was instrumental in the ousting of Mike Brown.

What’s funny is that Buss, in a move reminiscent of Steinbrenner, fell out of love with Jackson after the 2004 Pistons debacle. He realized his mistake and took him back a year later after a losing season. The Lakers appeared to finally crumble in 2011 as they behaved as a bitter and aging dynasty during the series with Dallas. The Mavericks disposed of them in a sweep, but not before Andrew Bynam and Lamar Odom threw some elbows on the court. The class and composure that is a trait of any Jackson team was conspicuously missing.

Jackson even admitted in the aforementioned HBO interview that some believed the game had passed him by. There was talk of Jackson’s Zen methods growing stale and how the Lakers needed a new voice. They imported a defensive-minded coach in Mike Brown who just happened to coach LeBron James. If he could take one-man show to the finals, how could he not continue the tradition in LA with their collection of stars?

In a lot of ways the Lakers are like the current edition of the Yankees. They can’t take a step back to move forward; not with Bryant still on the roster. They eventually need to fall off the cliff as they did in the early 90s, but that might be too painful for a city that now has three major sports teams- the Kings, Clippers and Dodgers- who are viable alternatives to fill an entertainment needs. Like New York, sports can easily be replaced with oodles of other options.

So Buss continues to field a team that is entertaining both on and off the court. You get the feeling that Jackson will continue to lurk in the shadows for the rest of his life. Anytime the Lakers are in trouble the Zen-master will come and fix it. If not for his untimely death, Billy Martin would have managed the Yankees again at some point in the 90s. Who knows if Torre would have ever been given a shot?

The window is closing fast for this Lakers team. Steve Nash is 38-years old.  Kobe is reaching his late prime and has a knee that is a ticking time bomb. Pau Gasol has been playing internationally so his body is a lot older than his birth certificate indicates. Dwight Howard is coming off serious back surgery that no one wants to admit might change his game for good.

This might be it for the Lakers. Their final stand, if you will. Jackson has to come save the day like Pat Riley did with the Heat in 2006. Riley, unlike Jackson, knew when it was time to step away for good. Some members of the New York media have yearned for the wild days of the Steinbrenner Yankees since the current version is stale, boring and corporate. They can see the basketball version 3,000 miles away.

The funny thing is not every sequel has a happy ending. Jackson knew when it was time to leave the Bulls. He knew to stay away from the Knicks and Nets at the turn of the century. I think he benefitted from walking away in 2004 since the Kobe and Shaq relationship was destroyed beyond repair. He came back at the right time and probably needed to retire after ’11 since his body was breaking down, literally, from the daily NBA grind. This time he has just as much talent, but is the clumsy roster he is taking over not in New York but right under his nose?

Sequels are never as good as the original movie. The third episode of a trilogy is usually a mail-it-in cash grab. After years of challenges and coaching me-first superstars, Jackson might finally have the ultimate task of his Hall-of-Fame coaching career; the kind of exclamation point that eluded him in 2011; the kind that could also leave a bad taste in your mouth when you leave the game for good.

If Jackson accepts the Lakers’ offer, then the fun will be just beginning.

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Mike Silva has hosted sports shows on 107.1 FM Champions ESPN Radio Long Island ,1240 AM WGBB , Blog Talk Radio and live from Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. He’s also built and maintained two popular social media hubs: New York Baseball Digest and Sports Media Watchdog. Mike has broken national and local stories, as well as been mentioned on the YES Network, SNY.tv, WFAN, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NY Daily News, New York Magazine, Journal News and the NY Post. Contact Mike professionally at mikesilvamedia.com

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