Phil’s Freefall

Kurt —  April 15, 2007

The Lakers have been freefall for a few weeks and it has exposed a few things. It exposed just how much damage the injuries have done to this team. It’s exposed players to roles that don’t suit them.

And it has exposed some weaknesses in Phil Jackson’s game.

Kevin Pelton asked me to do a Q&A for the Sonics official Web site about the Lakers, and one of the questions was about Phil and his frustrations with this team. Basically, he asked “why the freefall?” My answer:

This team was constructed with almost no margin for error. When everyone was healthy the Lakers looked good, like a second-tier team – not as good as the Mavericks/Suns/Spurs but a team none of those three wanted to face in the playoffs. The injuries have forced guys to have to take on roles that are beyond their capabilities. The center position is the perfect example: Andrew Bynum is a 19-year-old who didn’t play a lot in high school, he should be coming off the bench for 10-15 minutes a game and learning at a comfortable pace; instead he’s asked to stop Yao Ming and Amare Stoudimire to give his team a chance. Bynum’s confidence has been shaken, so now the classic “energy guy off the bench” in Ronny Turiaf, who is really a power forward, has taken over as starting center.

Bottom line, Phil Jackson hasn’t had the right pieces to move around the chessboard this year, but there certainly are some questions about some of the in-game decisions and rotations he has decided to go with. The makeup of this team – especially after the injuries – does not play to his strengths as a coach (molding a team, getting guys to play certain roles).

Phil has been about molding, getting teams to play at their peaks. This Laker team has become about development of players, and that has shown not to be Phil’s biggest strength.

But there also has been Phil’s hesitancy to make some roster moves — that has started to change with Ronny’s start last game and his willingness to sit Smush in fourth quarters.

Then there is the team not taking advantage of its strengths. Nate Jones of Jones on the NBA got into this in the comments recently.

He’s got a guy named Lamar Odom that is a match up nightmare for almost every team in the league. Take last night, for example. The Clippers had EB trying to defend Odom on the perimeter. Everytime Odom took EB off the dribble it ended up being a lay up. Odom is just as unstoppable against smaller players in the post, but PJ never calls his number. Odom should be almost as featured as Kobe Bryant is in the offense, yet most of the time (like the second half of last nights game) he is relegated to a spot up shooter. Odom only had his number called like 4 times the entire night last night. And what about running some pick roll plays with Kobe and Lamar? A Kobe and Lamar pick and roll tandem would be difficult to touch, yet they never run that play. If Kobe is involved in pick and roll it’s usually with Turiaf, Bynum, or (when healthy) Kwame Brown. Throw L.O. in there and see what he can do. I’m tired of seeing games where Smush Parker gets more shot attempts than Odom.

You know what else I miss, the pick-and-pop with Kobe and Cook.

I also miss winning. The good news is that the magic number remains two, and the Clippers still play the Suns, the Warriors still play the Mavericks. What we really need is just one game, one win — and this is a great chance. The Sonics are without Ray Lewis. They played last night (and lost in Portland). This is a very winnable game.

And man, I miss winning.