The Post Phil Era

Kurt —  January 24, 2009

USA TODAY Hollywood Hero Honoring Magic Johnson
In an interview with Magic Johnson to be aired during Sunday’s Lakers/Spurs game, Phil Jackson, when asked if he has considered retirement, said yes — in the summer of 2010, the end of his current contract. He doesn’t rule out coaching beyond that, saying he’ll go year by year, but it was about the most definitive Jackson has ever sounded on the issue.

I haven’t heard the entire interview yet (John Ireland had just a snippet on his radio show) and by the time the Lakers/Spurs game is over I’m sure Phil Jackson will be back to tap dancing around the retirement question. And nothing can change a man’s mind like $10 million. But I can see why he would want to hang it up — he’s had both his hips replaced, he doesn’t need the money, and he’s been there and done it all. If he wins the 10th ring in the next couple of years, I can see him hanging it up.

The question of the day is not should Phil retire — he can and should do that on his own terms — but rather what follows for the Lakers?

To me, that has to start with a basic team philosophy question: Do the Lakers stay a triangle team? Or do they go to another style?

That really determines where you go for a coach. If you want to stay triangle, you hire one of the current assistants — Kurt Rambis, Brian Shaw or former NBA head coach Jim Cleamons. If you want to go another direction, you talk to Bryon Scott or another top-flight coach.

It also determines roster moves. What Mitch and the Lakers have done well in recent years is build a team of players who have skills that fit well in the triangle (despite how painful that process been at times). Certainly some of the players on the Lakers roster now (and when the retirement happens) can succeed in multiple styles, but some may not. And there may be new players needed to fill specific roles in a new system.

My two cents are that if Phil hangs it up after the end of the 09-10 season, with the team in the middle of a championship window, you don’t rock the boat with a new system. You hire Rambis or Shaw, try to keep things largely the same, and go for more titles with the team as built.

But, if it is a few years later, when the window is closing, maybe it’s time for some changes.. Buss has questioned the triangle in the past, but if you are going to get away from that, you have to do so when the timing is right. But before you hire any coach, you need to look at these big picture questions.