So far, in fact, Rodman has been a model of mental health compared with the rest of the Lakers' organization. The front office, which for 17 years has been guided by the wisdom and authority of executive vice president Jerry West, looked to be in disarray last week as even West was overtaken by events. It got so bad that when it came time to announce Rambis's appointment as the new coach, West wasn't even up to attending the press conference. "He asked for the day off," says Kupchak.
Although Kupchak says everybody in management was on the same page throughout the week, the facts suggest they weren't even reading the same book. Rodman clearly was Buss's idea, while West's and Kupchak's emotions were mixed. "Is Dr. Buss as concerned with the distractions that Dennis might pose as we are?" Kupchak asked diplomatically. "I don't think so."
The overall implication was that Buss, who had left decisions on players to West in the past, was feeling his oats. However, it is likely that West himself decided to make the coaching change, although Buss kept the confusion quotient high. West, who saw in Harris a wonderful person and a dear friend, had hoped to ease him out with dignity after last season, which ended with another embarrassing playoff loss to the Utah Jazz. Harris, after four full seasons, had lost the team. Bryant admitted that some players had "tuned him out" from Day One and that as much as he himself liked the "old school" technician, he too tuned him out from time to time. But Buss preferred to see how this season began before making a move.
It began badly, so there was no question that Harris was gone. Given the Lakers' philosophy of hiring from within, there wasn't much question throughout the organization that the job would go to either Rambis or fellow assistant Larry Drew. But that apparently couldn't happen before Buss raised the possibility that Jackson, the former Chicago Bulls coach and Rodman caretaker, might replace Harris. Kupchak insists that Jackson's name never came up, so he was a little surprised, he says, to pick up the newspaper the day Rambis's promotion was going to be announced and read that his boss had said the job was still open. "It was like, Is there something we don't know about?" Kupchak remembers asking West.
In the end Rambis, who was solicited for the Clippers' head job in the off-season, appears to be the ideal coach for this team. In a way, he was the Rodman of his time, picking up loose balls for Magic Johnson's championship teams in the '80s and looking a little eccentric himself. Anybody remember those thick black glasses, all taped together? Think of those as the nose rings of a decade ago. Rambis certainly has a better chance of communicating with Rodman than Harris had. When Rambis asked Rodman last Friday how many minutes he would like to play, Rodman said, "Yes." Rambis seemed to know what he meant. Of course, the whole thing could go south in a second. A rookie coach, a high-energy misfit who favors mascara over after-shave, and an increasingly impatient owner—these are not the ingredients of a dynasty. Whether the Lakers win an NBA championship this year or end up in ruins, it's not going to be boring. People will pay money to see this, you just watch.
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