By: Ben Golliver (eye on basketball)
All season long we’ve covered the possibility of Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson’s retirement, and as the regular season ticks down Jackson has become more and more serious about that possibility becoming reality. In a group interview with the Los Angeles media on Thursday, Jackson pointed to the lockout as a major influencer of his decision to call it quits after this season.
Of course, that begs the question: Who will replace the Zenmaster?
Lakers assistant coach and former longtime player Brian Shaw has long been considered the most likely candidate, and Yahoo! Sports reports on Friday that Lakers All-Star guard Kobe Bryant has issued a strong public endorsement for Shaw.
Bryant told Yahoo! Sports on Friday that he and his teammates will endorse the longtime Lakers assistant as Jackson’s replacement. Shaw is in his sixth full season on Jackson’s coaching staff after serving as an assistant to Frank Hamblen during the second half of the 2004-05 season.
“I feel all of the players believe in coach B-Shaw,” Bryant said the Lakers’ Friday morning shootaround. “We have such a rapport with him. He’s been with us for such a long time. We all have a bit of a bias towards him.
“I don’t want to get in the way of management. But we’ve all kind of had our eye on him for a while.”
Given the Lakers’ back-to-back titles, with the possibility for a three-peat, and the career arcs of their core, continuity is most important in selecting Jackson’s replacement. As Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum and Ron Artest are all locked in for the foreseeable future, the ideal replacement for Jackson is someone who knows those players’ strengths, weaknesses and personalities. Logically, that would give any internal candidate — including Shaw — a big leg up.
Still, Shaw has never been a full time NBA head coach and that’s the big trade off here. Los Angeles faces a glare unlike any other NBA market and the pressure to succeed, plus expectations, are going to be sky-high as long as Bryant is in a Lakers uniform. Shaw would be jumping straight into the deep end.
Bryant’s endorsement is telling though. If there were serious doubts about Shaw’s ability to steer the ship, Bryant wouldn’t be this public and effusive in his praise. And as Shaquille O’Neal can attest, Bryant’s words carry a lot of weight in L.A.