CHICAGO – Sam Smith covered the Chicago Bulls for the Chicago Tribune for nearly 25 years, including all six of the team’s NBA titles with Michael Jordan. He is the author of the best-selling book “The Jordan Rules” and now writes for bulls.com. He was honored with the Basketball Hall of Fame’s Curt Gowdy Media Award for lifetime achievement earlier this year. Smith will be writing a bimonthly column on the league for The Japan Times beginning today.
The United States was buzzing with excitement last week.
I’m not sure how unexpected it was, but when it happens you just sit back and consider the ramifications.
Sure, many people criticized and second guessed the result.
But it was something everyone had an opinion on.
Oh, yes, and there was President Barack Obama running for reelection, also.
But how about the Los Angeles Lakers firing coach Mike Brown after just five games?
So much for the defending Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder trading one of their Big Three, James Harden, to the Houston Rockets.
That was big news.
But this is the Lakers, and it is the team that at least Metta World Peace (Ron Artest) predicted would break the Bulls record and win at least 73 games after acquiring likely future Hall of Famers Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to go with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
But it went all wrong as the Lakers lost all eight of their preseason games.
OK, it’s just preseason and Bryant wasn’t playing all the games. But then Nash sustained a small fracture in his left leg and went out in the second game and the Lakers stumbled and bumbled with seeming indifference in losing four of their first five.
This would be met with patience and reminders of it being a long season everywhere else. But not in Los Angeles, where heroes and villains are made in moments in the movies, and the only major city in the U.S. where the basketball team is the most important sports property.
Phil Jackson was expected to return for a third and everyone assumed final chapter of being the hero to save the day, the team and even the city. Of course, Phil did invent “never say never” for the NBA.
But, surprisingly late Sunday night (U.S. time), the Lakers chose Steve Nash’s former coach, and Knicks’ former coach, Mike D’Antoni.
But there also is, as usual, much more of the story behind the story. Yes, the Lakers were playing badly, though they won two straight after Brown was fired against lowly Golden State and Sacramento.
So, no, they aren’t that bad.
But they also aren’t that great. It’s a flawed roster with a poor reserve group and older, slower, less athletic players — other than Howard — who are vulnerable to young, quick teams.
They probably are better suited for the playoffs and more of a half-court game, but the NBA also makes them play those 82 regular-season games. It seems so unfair.
But there are a few other big issues driving this as it never would have anywhere else.
Patriarch owner Jerry Buss has been ill, and the family running the team quietly wants to do all it can to have him see another championship.
This group with 38-year-old Nash and 34-year-old Bryant who talked in general in training camp about retiring in maybe two years, is generally regarded to have a one or two-year window to make that championship run.
No use being patient with a coach whom everyone realized — yes, what took them so long? — didn’t fit with not only the roster but the L.A. mentality and style.
You don’t have an accountant run Showtime. The Lakers’ history has been glitz and activity, and Brown couldn’t be more the science teacher type.
Then Brown, who doesn’t even think offense yet coach it, said he would put in the “Princeton” system of play, which basically is a college offense designed for less talented players to compete with more talent.
So, how exactly does that fit with Kobe, Howard and Nash?
Brown, though he coached the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals with LeBron James, is a classic example of the so- called Peter Principle of people getting promoted over their level of ability.
He was an excellent assistant unqualified to be the boss. Or certainly a Zen Master.
Though perhaps the biggest shadow hanging over all this was the biggest guy, Howard. Though he lately professed his love for Los Angeles, he has been known to be mercurial and mostly emotional.
And that’s his good days.
Howard remains technically a free agent. Should this Lakers dream team turn into a nightmare, Howard could opt to leave after the season.
Which would leave the Lakers feeling awfully blue. Whatever the cost of paying off Brown, which was more than $10 million, it would pale in comparison to the disaster zone the Lakers probably would have been if the purple and gold had chosen to retain him.
So how did that presidential election go?