Lakers Hoping D’Antoni Is It

Clint Boyer (15) stops after being hit by Jeff Gordon during a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race Nov. 11 at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz. AP photo

The Los Angeles Lakers have become “Show Time” in more ways than just their on-court performance. The recent firing of Mike Brown after a 1-4 start surprised almost everyone, including Laker players.

But Brown’s plodding half-court offense didn’t make use of point guard Steve Nash’s talents in the open floor, and when he got hurt they looked even worse. After Bernie Bickerstaff took over, the Staples Center crowd chanted former coach Phil Jackson’s name. The Laker brass reached out to Jackson and it appeared the Zen master would be back on the sidelines.

Then suddenly the Lakers announced it had reached an agreement with former Suns and Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni for three years and $12 million, leaving Jackson stunned. Early reports indicated that Jackson may have asked for too much, supposedly wanting restricted travel and control over basketball personnel decisions. Both parties said those reports were either inaccurate or overblown, but one fact is that Jackson last made $12 million per season, three times what D’Antoni will earn.

The transition was poorly handled and the Lakers come off looking as if they treated the iconic coach shabbily. But the once-warm relationship among Jerry Buss, son Jim and Jackson had cooled considerably toward the end of his last Laker run. This, despite Jackson’s enduring relationship with daughter/sister Jeanie Buss. The plot of Dynasty has nothing on this melodrama, but D’Antoni should end up being a big improvement on Brown. The Lakers will be better, Nash will be utilized properly, and just as importantly, they will once again be fun to watch.

* There was a time when NASCAR was thought to do the best job in public relations of any professional sport. Media-friendly appearances and interview access had made NASCAR’S violent whiskey-hauling beginnings fade from consciousness, but last week’s AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix International brought the underpinnings of the sport to light with Jeff Gordon intentionally wrecking Clint Bowyer, which provoked a melee between the two pit crews – all captured on tape. Some drivers seemed to recognize it wasn’t good for the sport, such as Sprint Cup leader Brad Keselowski: “I thought it was absolutely ridiculous and I was ashamed to be a part of it.”

But not every NASCAR driver felt that way, including race winner Kevin Harvick, who said after the brawl: “Fights are what made NASCAR what it is.”

NASCAR did not suspend Gordon but did fine him $100,000 and dock him 25 points. The only thing that will clean up rough racing might be some sponsors threatening to pull their money or worse yet, retaliation that results in catastrophic injury or death.