The Los Angeles Lakers are looking to their past as they try to build the future of their organization. Five-time Lakers championship coach Phil Jackson is consulting the team on its search to replace former head coach Frank Vogel, per ESPN. Jackson was also consulted during the search that led to Vogel’s hiring, according to Adrian Wojnarowski.
Jackson’s involvement in the coaching search is hardly surprising. He has a longstanding personal relationship with owner Jeanie Buss, and The Athletic reported in March that Jackson had been in frequent contact with Buss about the team. The Lakers have a tendency to stay within the family when it comes to team matters. They consult those who have succeeded with the team in the past, including Magic Johnson, who resigned as team president in 2019, but as Buss revealed, is still frequently consulted. Jackson falls under the same umbrella.
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But Jackson, even as an 11-time championship-winning coach, has a spotty history in other organizational roles. The New York Knicks never reached the playoffs during Jackson’s presidency. He infamously drafted Frank Ntilkina over Donovan Mitchell, and his best draft pick, Kristaps Porzingis, grew so frustrated with the team that he eventually got traded to the Dallas Mavericks. He wasn’t the only star Jackson alienated. The former Lakers coach oversaw the degradation of the team’s relationship with Carmelo Anthony despite Jackson himself signing him to the long-term contract that Jackson wanted to trade.
Anthony played for the Lakers last season. He is a free agent and may not return, but close friend LeBron James will almost certainly be back next season, and he, too, has issues with Jackson. Jackson referred to James’ inner circle as his “posse,” a term with racial connotations. James said at the time that he had “nothing but respect for him as a coach” before the incident, but that respect was lost. “If he says it out to the media, I can only imagine what he says when the camera is not on him,” James added.
It is unclear how influential Jackson’s voice will be in the process, but his history of hiring coaches is a tad concerning as well. He chose former Lakers point guard Derek Fisher to lead his Knicks when he was hired in New York. Fisher went 40-96 with the Knicks, and while he was still leading the team, he got into an infamous altercation with former teammate Matt Barnes, whose wife Fisher was involved with. After firing Fisher, Frank Isola, then of the New York Daily News, reported that Jackson wanted to promote longtime confidante Kurt Rambis to the head-coaching position. The team instead went with Jeff Hornacek, but Rambis remained as an assistant who was reportedly “beyond unpopular” with the players. Rambis has a career record of 65-164 as a head coach.
He is now a very influential voice in the Lakers’ front office, which likely only furthers Jackson’s influence. The Lakers typically value Laker ties as much as any other factor in making hiring decisions, and bringing back Jackson suggests that, barring the availability of a truly exceptional outside candidate, they would prefer to maintain that trend moving forward.