Rudy Tomjanovich became the second most prominent American to recently be offered a position of leadership, after John Edwards. Of course, Edwards only has to prepare himself on issues of national security, health care, the economy and the environment. Rudy T. might have to coach Kobe Bryant.
Have you ever wondered why sports personalities make much higher salaries than our elected officials? There’s your answer.
After the Mike Krzyzewski seduction ended with a hard slap in the face, the Lakers turned to Plan B, or should I say, Plan T. Apparently not miffed while the Lakers toyed with his emotions, Tomjanovich sat back and waited until the process ended at his doorstep. The club reportedly is in “serious negotiations” with the former Houston Rockets’ coach, and soon the carnival will have a new barker.
Where there once was chaos, now there is a little less chaos.
Krzyzewski, a great head coach in the college ranks, would have been a poor fit. But that didn’t matter. Kobe liked him, so general manager Mitch Kupchak took a run at him. The only other coaches up to this task would have been Larry Brown and Jerry Sloan. Both are under contract to other teams, and besides, Sloan would be more likely to bench Bryant than let him run roughshod over the program, and Brown still suffers combat fatigue from the Allen Iverson experience.
Speaking of superstar shooting guards deluded by the extent of their abilities, Bryant believes so strongly that the Lakers’ offense should revolve around him that he orchestrated – directly or indirectly, through the servitude of a desperate owner – the ouster of Jackson and the proposed exile of Shaquille O’Neal. This is the toxic mess Rudy T. walks into.
Settling on a head coach, and a darn good one, is imperative for Buss, Kupchak and the Lakers. After getting spanked by the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals, the Lakers’ organization came apart faster than a pair of knockoff Nikes. Tomjanovich will at least provide stability and credibility.
The problem with the team’s approach this offseason is that it was based not just on Bryant’s whims, but on the speculation of them, since he has been a sphinx. Buss seems to have no idea what it will take to get Bryant’s name on a contract again, and he has acted like an gushing suitor to Bryant’s Southern belle.
Hiring Tomjanovich alters the paradigm. Now the team has made a definitive move with its future, rather than waiting anxiously for a thumbs up or a thumbs down from their 25-year-old emperor. That could be more impressive to Bryant than the incessant brownnosing.
It might also be viewed favorably by Shaq, although that is a longer shot. The Lakers did a splendid job of turning a good soldier (sort of) into an enemy combatant. Buss and Kupchak couldn’t have insulted him more if they declared that Spider-Man is much cooler than Superman. O'Neal told Houston TV station KHOU on Monday night that although he likes Tomjanovich, he still wants out.
Yet the dominoes may fall a different way now that a respected coach is in place. Shaq has adamantly demanded a trade, but so far, while there has been interest, there has been little movement. A deal like that is complicated, and the Lakers will not part with him unless they can receive the foundation of a future championship contender in return.
As farfetched as it may appear now, Rudy T. could be the calming influence that entices Kobe and Shaq to return to the Lakers. Shaq is still under contract for two more seasons, although he can opt out at this time next year. He’ll find it extremely difficult to command salaries in the $30 million per year range from other clubs, and there is no team out there among the hopefuls in the Shaq derby who can guarantee that he will be toiling on a championship-caliber club.
Helping in the quest to keep Shaq in Lakers finery is the notion that Rudy T. was hired independently of Bryant. Krzyzewski was Kobe’s hand-picked guy. But Rudy T. will be viewed as the organization’s choice. That might be more acceptable to its surly center.
This embarrassing torrent of upheaval could have been averted if Buss had acted like a leader instead of a follower. He should have kept Jackson. Failing that, he should have been decisive and pulled the trigger earlier on Tomjanovich instead of going all lapdog on us.
But now the Lakers have taken control of their basketball team away from Bryant and handed it to a head coach, albeit briefly. Whether Bryant endorses his candidacy or jumps to the other camp is anyone’s guess.
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