The Staples Center crowd clapped over the Lakers’ improved energy. They cheered over the Lakers’ 101-77 victory Friday over the Golden State Warriors. They sounded giddy that the Lakers finally sent the 18,997 fans at Staples Center home with free tacos.
But there were several instances where the crowd’s roar seemed deafening. It happened every time they made it loud and clear who they hope replaces the recently fired Mike Brown as Lakers’ head coach.
“We want Phil!” the crowd roared. “We want Phil!”
No need for a last name. The Lakers knew all too well that their hometown fans were clamoring for Phil Jackson to make his return.
“Expected,” Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said. “I knew that was coming.”
And it’s a moment the Lakers seemed to relish.
Bryant endorsed Jackson so much during his press conference, he well have worn a campaign button endorsing him. Pau Gasol professed his love for Jackson, who won five of his 11 NBA championships with two separate stints with the Lakers (1999-2004, 2006-2011). Metta World Peace pretended not to understand English when asked the question.
Only Dwight Howard played coy about the question, considering the heat he took over his hasty departure from Orlando. But no matter. Bryant sounded the most vocal in advocating Jackson’s return.
That’s because the Lakers falling to the Dallas Mavericks in a four-game sweep in the 2011 Western Conference semifinals soured the storyline ending where Jackson would cement his accomplished career with a 12th NBA title.
“My last year I wasn’t able to give him my normal self,” Bryant said. “I was playing on one leg. That was eating on me that the last year of his career, I couldn’t give him everything I had.”
Bryant has that opportunity to make amends. After all, Bryant has a healthier surgically repaired right knee after having an innovative procedure on it the summer of 2012 in Germany.
Meanwhile, Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak held out a “maybe” on consulting the team’s veterans about the upcoming coaching search.
Based on the pulse in the Lakers’ locker room, it’s safe to say every key Laker would endorse Jackson’s return.
“Obviously he’s a great coach,” Gasol said. “I don’t know where he stands on this or if he’s interested or not and if ownership thinks he’s the right candidate. I believe he would be on the top one of the list.”
Oh, there’s other candidates too.
Bryant joked he’s “like Kevin Bacon” considering he has connections to other possible replacements, including former Knicks Coach Mike D’Antoni (Team USA assistant), former Portland Coach Nate McMillan (Team USA assistant) and Pacers associate coach Brian Shaw (former Lakers assistant).
But none have quite the cache that Jackson would bring.
His 19-year NBA coaching career his spanned 11 NBA championships, 13 NBA Finals appearances and 229 playoffs wins in the most unimaginable way possible.
“Phil’s a great coach. I always enjoyed playing against Phil and his team,” Howard said. “If he does come back, we’ll be using the same high chair.”
There could be adjustment issues beyond that.
Jackson is said to be in much better health in his knees and hips and rejuvenated after spending the past NBA season enjoying retirement. But how will he hold up during another grind of an NBA season? Bryant, Gasol, World Peace and Steve Blake have familiarity with the triangle offense. But will Howard and Nash, two strong pick-and-roll players, face the same learning curve with the triangle as they did with the Princeton-based system?
“Are you doubting the Zen master?” Bryant asked a reporter.
He has a point. After all, the Lakers fans kept cheering his name for good reason.
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