BILL DWYRE

Lakers' passing on Jackson not unthinkable if you think about it

It's time for those grieving over the Lakers' hiring of Mike D'Antoni over Phil Jackson to consider why Jerry Buss — not Jim Buss — handled the decision as he did.

Today is my time to be there for you, to serve as your grief counselor.

This is what we do in a caring, sharing society at times when there has been great sorrow from a natural disaster, a terrible accident or, worse, the failure of the Lakers to hire Phil Jackson as coach.

We need to take it one step at a time, go slowly while seeking hope. Yes, like Elvis, Phil has left the building and he is not being asked back. But remember what Little Orphan Annie sang: "The sun'll come out tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar.…"

There hasn't been this much weeping and hand-wringing around here since one of the letters in the Hollywood sign blew down. In the category of local sports disasters, this one registered on the Richter scale.

Grief counselors all say the same thing, at the appropriate time. Which is now.

Move on. Stash the boxes of Kleenex. Put away the blankie you've been huddling under and stop sobbing. Call back the guy at the Lakers' ticket office who sold you your season tickets and apologize for all those terrible things you said to him Monday.

It will be OK. Time heals.

As a matter of fact, the hiring of Mike D'Antoni has a great chance to be a great decision by Jerry Buss. And to that point, let's clear up all the noise and finger-pointing at son Jim Buss. Jerry Buss may be ill at the moment, but he hasn't lost his instincts or ability to say yes or no. Jim is learning the ropes, but he hasn't climbed to the top quite yet.

Jerry made the call. That's not idle speculation. Take it to the bank.

It may also help your healing to ponder some of the things that probably went on in Lakers' inner sanctum.

The conclusion that Mike Brown's dismissal was too sudden and not well thought out, because no replacement seemed to be waiting in the wings, is probably wrong, especially when a few details are pondered.

Detail No. 1: Brown hadn't just started the season 1-4. He had lost 14 of his last 15 games as Lakers coach. Firing him is not a quick trigger. It's a business necessity.

Detail No. 2: Brown's agent is Warren LeGarie. D'Antoni's agent is Warren LeGarie. If you contact D'Antoni and have him waiting in the wings when you announce that Brown is being fired, you throw LeGarie under the bus. You need to correctly, even ethically, do one thing at a time. Messing with an agent is not high on the list of no-nos for an NBA team, but it's smart to never burn a bridge when you don't need to.

Then, there is the possibility of palace intrigue.

Phil and Jeanie Buss are a couple. They aren't married, but they've been together for years. Good for Jeanie. Even better for Phil.

Jeanie is, of course, one of Jerry's children, as is Jim. As such, Jeanie certainly has a financial stake in the Lakers, as does Jim. So, if you are Jerry Buss, you might ponder how much outside family influence you want to part with. You especially ponder that when you are 78 years old.

There were reports, but no proof or confirmation, that part of Phil's employment desire included a piece of the team. Even without such a request, it's not hard to see where the power might go, with Phil coaching the team and Jeanie running the team business, as she does now. That might have been fine, even to the satisfaction of Jerry and Jim Buss. Or, it might have made father and son nervous. Whether that is right or wrong doesn't really matter, because the man who owns the business gets to choose his employees, if not his sons-in-law.

Another apparent misconception, driven by statements from Lakers officials that may have been more public relations than reality, was that Phil was the No. 1 choice. That's easy to dismiss. If he had been, the Lakers would have certainly waited until Monday. Or a week from Monday. Heck, why not December?

D'Antoni had to be the guy all along. Everything else was public relations and window dressing. Otherwise, the Lakers' actions make no sense. The team statement said that the decision trio — Jerry and Jim Buss and General Manager Mitch Kupchak — were unanimous in their choice. Was D'Antoni so articulate in one phone interview that he blew them away? Who is he, Barack Obama?

Then, there is the Kurt Rambis case. An individual in a position to know says that one of the details Phil did discuss was making Rambis his main assistant. Rambis is the former Lakers player known for his hustle and heart. He coached the Lakers to a 24-13 record in the strike-shortened 1999 season. The next season, they hired Phil and Rambis stayed on as an assistant. Rambis' wife, Linda, is Jeanie's best friend, but we must assume that mattered only peripherally to his coaching talent.

What mattered more was that Rambis, working for ESPN, kept reporting on a story that he was part of, and then, when Phil wasn't hired, blasted Lakers management on the air. Of course, Rambis was trained in basketball, not journalistic ethics, so we might give him a pass.

But what about ESPN, that ever-present noise in our lives, allowing him to do so? Is ESPN too big to care, or too caught up in its own noise to understand that it should?

Anyway, we hope you feel better now.

Think about Annie, promising a rising sun tomorrow. And if you doubt her, turn on your television set. ESPN will have seven people, sitting around a table, describing it.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

CHICAGO

More