By Ben Golliver
"Melodramatic" isn't a word we usually associate with Magic Johnson, but these are strange times in Lakerland.
On Wednesday, Johnson wrote on Twitter that he was "mourning" the Lakers' decision to bypass Phil Jackson and hire Mike D'Antoni to replace fired coach Mike Brown.
"The reason I haven't tweeted in 2 days is because I've been mourning Phil Jackson not being hired as the Lakers head coach," Johnson wrote. "My mother always taught me that if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."
Johnson, a five-time champion with the Lakers and, until recently, a minority owner and team executive, had been one of the loudest voices in favor of the Lakers hiring Jackson after previously expressing displeasure with Brown. On Sunday, just hours before D'Antoni was hired, Johnson told USA Today that Jackson would be the "perfect coach" for the Lakers and said that he felt that Jackson's hire was "going to get done."
When you get Dwight Howard and you get a Steve Nash, and you bring them to the Lakers, Phil would be a perfect coach of this team because of his recent success with Shaq [O'Neal], his recent success with [former Lakers center Andrew] Bynum and [Lakers forward Pau] Gasol. So he knows how to utilize both big men, put them in a position that they can be successful and that the team can be successful as well. So he already has this incredible history with Kobe, winning five championships with him. He would definitely, I think, from Day One, be able to take over this team. He'll have the respect of the guys, because he's won championships. He would have a knowledge of them, they would have a knowledge of him, they know how to run the triangle. The only two people who have to catch up are Nash and Howard. With Dwight, that'd be easy, and I think that'd be easy for Steve Nash as well. If the Lakers want to win now, he's the perfect coach.
That's the reason why Mike is out, because the Lakers are about winning championships. They're not about waiting. Some people have complained, and said different things -- no, he didn't get a fair shake. The Lakers don't give people fair shakes. It's not about fair shakes. It's about whether you can produce or not.
The expressed disappointment is understandable and not surprising in the least. Johnson has a long-standing friendship and business relationship with Jackson. He's emboldened by a solid "I told you" on Brown's hiring. He is in a position to better understand the complicated internal dynamics of Lakers ownership than any outsider. Past all of that, and perhaps most importantly, he understands how narrow the window is for these Lakers, because he has been where Kobe Bryant is right now, trying to generate championship runs at the end of a vaunted career.
D'Antoni fails Johnson's litmus test just as Brown did. Worse, unlike Brown, D'Antoni has never guided a team to the Finals. Does that matter? Not as much as Johnson thinks; Doc Rivers, Rick Carlisle and Erik Spoelstra are three of the last five coaches to win titles and they were all first-time title-winners. Jackson casts a massive shadow over the post-1990s NBA and let's not forget Gregg Popovich, either. Together, the two coaches account for 15 of the last 22 championships. That's staggering, to be sure, but to hold that number against every other coach in the world isn't fair. Time is of the essence, and valuing experience, even overvaluing it, given the personalities and age of the Lakers key players isn't wrong. But failing to beat star-laden Lakers and Spurs teams coached by Hall of Famers isn't the mark of incompetency. With the decision now made, only harm can come from comparing D'Antoni to Jackson, the man and myth, for the Lakers. Brown was lost to that vacuum already and D'Antoni would be wise to get away from such talk as politely and quickly as possible.