- The Washington Times - Friday, February 4, 2005

The Zen master undoubtedly is reveling in the distress signal of his former employer following the tortured exit of the beaten and bowed Rudy Tomjanovich.

The Zen master was not exactly run out of Los Angeles last summer. It only felt and looked that way.

This is his cue, unnecessary though it is, to say, “I told you so.”

The Lakers are a mess after surrendering to the petulance of Kobe Bryant. Their pursuit of one of the last playoff berths in the Western Conference qualifies as mildly surprising, which remains an unsatisfying position for a franchise accustomed to being ahead of the pack.

The new spin emanating from the nation’s air kiss capital revises the history between the Zen master and Bryant. It seems their relationship was never as acrimonious as portrayed, despite how the Zen master portrayed it in his book last fall.

The Zen master charged Bryant with being selfish, an accurate charge to anyone who used to question the player’s repeated one-on-three forays to the basket while ignoring the immutable dimension of Shaquille O’Neal.

Bryant has a broken image to repair, a persuasive enough reason to sign off on the notion of the Zen master’s return. Bryant’s image plummeted past bottom about the time he accused Karl Malone of trying to pick up his wife in front of 20,000 witnesses. The Zen master looms as Bryant’s chance to leave the Tonya Harding wing of pop culture.

The Zen master, of course, has to show he is coach enough to take up with a team that is a player or two shy of being a championship lock. That is the hole in his portfolio. He does not build championship teams, he inherits them.

The Zen master is determined to return to the NBA, this much is certain — perhaps in Manhattan, where speculation persists on the back pages of the tabloids.

His incense, pet rocks and bag of psychological tricks are not necessarily the cure for what ails the Knicks, burdened as the franchise is with bad contracts and a broken-down Allan Houston. Yet it is the franchise of the Zen master’s playing days, a pull all its own.

The Zen master retains copious amounts of credibility, however adjusted down by his last two seasons of napping on the Lakers bench. His tendency to let a team play through its rough patches resulted in the Lakers playing themselves out of the NBA Finals last June.

In this respect, the Zen master was no different from the prognosticators who envisioned a romp by the Lakers. Few saw the emergence of the Pistons, a forgivable point unless you are the coach of the vanquished.

The Zen master is sufficiently eccentric to confound the skeptics and end up back where it unraveled on his watch, if only to make a larger point. He did stick around after Michael Jordan’s first retirement in Chicago, a period often lost in the deconstructing of him. The Bulls won 55 games in the 1993-94 season and were perhaps a Hugh Hollins call away from upending the Knicks in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The wild card is Jeanie Buss, the owner’s daughter who shares pillow talk with the Zen master. She has been singing his praises anew, both as team vice president and main squeeze, the bonus being spared the challenge of a bi-coastal relationship.

In a way, the Zen master finds he is matched again with Larry Brown, the mercurial coach of the Pistons with an intractable case of wanderlust. Brown is the other coaching item of the moment, despite being contractually obligated to Joe Dumars and the Pistons.

Unlike the Zen master, Brown is in the untenable position of asking his players to be committed to the team while he is committed only to himself.

New York or Los Angeles, the Zen master or Brown, the leap is theirs to take in good time.


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