Archives For Phil Jackson

Unless you live in a cave, you know that Phil Jackson has signed on to be the Knicks’ new Director of Basketball Everything (or something to that effect). The full details of the deal have yet to come out, but initial reports say that Phil will be paid around $12 million annually to be, among other things, the new face of the franchise and shepherd them into the future by, well, being Phil Jackson: owner of championship pedigree. How this plays out for Phil and Knicks isn’t yet known and popular opinion seems to be that he’ll either succeed because he’s Phil Jackson or fail because of James Dolan which, if you are asking me, sounds like a pretty good deal. I wish Phil nothing but the best in this endeavor — and it will be an endeavor, but that’s another discussion.

Of course, Phil’s trek back to his NY roots has brought to the forefront the major question of why is he taking this job with the Knicks and not the Lakers. This isn’t just a fan question either. Kobe Bryant is seemingly asking it. As is Magic Johnson. Phil should be a Laker, only he isn’t. For many, this is a development that induces anger.

I don’t really blame people for being mad. Phil is a charismatic guy who has had a lot of success with the Lakers. The fact that he left three years ago after his team played terribly against the Mavs doesn’t resonate as much with fans as the 5 championships he won with the franchise. This is understandable. Again, I like Phil Jackson and would have welcomed him back into the fold without the bat of an eye. He’s Phil Jackson.

But he is not coming back and that brings forth a reality that many aren’t seemingly ready to face. This is Jim Buss’ team; this is Jim Buss’ time to lead.

Tell the truth, you just got a lump in your throat didn’t you? You heard some ominous music playing in your head, right? Did you get the sudden urge to change the channel even if your TV isn’t on?

I get it. Jim Buss doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in fans these days. A wretched team this season and the sour taste of last season combined with the departure of Dwight and now Phil will do that to you, I know. The Lakers are down in the dumps and it’s All. Jim. Buss’. Fault.

Except, you know, it isn’t.

I am not here to defend Jim Buss. But I am also not here to rip him to shreds. Jim Buss has proven, as an executive, to be…actually I don’t know what he’s proven. His record is mixed. He has held his current title of Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations for the past 9 years. Before that his title was Assistant GM to Mitch Kupchak, a title he held for 7 years. Doing the math, that is 16 years in the Lakers’ front office “handling basketball related decisions that range from the scouting of players and the NBA Draft to trades and the signing of free agents” according to the Lakers’ media guide.

No one person deserves all the credit or blame for the team’s successes or failures over those years. As has been reported multiple times, the Lakers made most major decisions with input from Dr. Buss, Jim, and Mitch Kupchack with the good Doctor having the final say. Pinning any one decision on anyone besides Dr. Buss — while he was alive — is likely just spin, be it to praise or condemn someone. The fact is, the Lakers experienced a lot of success over the years and have fallen on hard times recently. Credit and blame can be doled out however one wants, but doing so without remembering that every major decision was made by all three of the aforementioned people with Jerry having the final say should probably be put out there first.

Now that Dr. Buss has passed, however, the Lakers are mostly in Jim’s hands. Even though he is not technically the owner — the Lakers were left to all the Buss children in a trust and they cannot sell without every child approving — he is the highest ranking executive on the basketball operations side. The buck, then, stops with him when it comes to player and coach matters.

As mentioned above, this likely gives you pause, but I prefer to see it as an opportunity for Buss to attack the perception that he is some sort of incompetent. For reasons that have nothing to do with ability, this will not be easy. The Lakers are a team of free-agents-to-be paired with players who have great name recognition but are injured and have question marks heading into next season. They have cap space to spend, but with the aforementioned roster issues aren’t necessarily the most desirable landing spot for free agents. They look as though they will have a high draft pick in a talented draft, but it is rare for a single draft pick to turn around the fortunes of a franchise right away.

And then, of course, there is that pesky perception of how good Jim is at his job. Whether it is true or not, the idea that Jim doesn’t have the ability to build a winner damages his, and by association the Lakers’, chances to turn things around quickly. And the only way to change that perception is to do the thing that is made even harder by how he is viewed. If this sounds like an inescapable spiral, it sort of is. The Lakers are in a position where they need several things to go right over the next summer or two — nailing their draft pick, Kobe returning to form, having some smaller FA signings work out very well, etc. These things aren’t impossible, but that’s a lot of things going right in a short amount of time.

The flip side of this, however, is that none of those things happen overnight. It takes time for a draft pick — especially an 18 to 19 year old kid (whose name isn’t LeBron, Shaq, Duncan, Alcindor, Wilt, etc) to prove he’s ready to play at a high level night in and night out and shift a team’s trajectory upward almost instanteously. We won’t know about Kobe’s progress and how he’ll hold up over the course of a rigorous NBA campaign until several months into next season. Free agent signings can always be spun positively on July 1st, but the act of them living up to (or surpassing) the value of their contract comes over the long haul.

This is how winners are built. I understand fans have little patience for stuff like this, but in many ways there’s no choice this time. This isn’t like when Phil Jackson took over the team that Del Harris couldn’t get over the hump. And it definitely isn’t like the team Pat Riley took over that won a championship just a couple of years earlier. There is no ready made roster here that is one piece away. The Lakers are rebuilding and need the time it takes to forge a foundation that a contending team can rest on for years to come.

Doing this any other way would be disservice to everyone involved. And while I have no way of knowing this, I have a feeling the people who know this best just so happen to be Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak. Whether people are willing to give them this time is another story entirely, however.

After The Gold Rush

Dave Murphy —  April 18, 2013

There’s an oft-used saying, ‘it’s a tough act to follow.’ You don’t want to be the band that takes the stage after the last band just totally shredded. Or the comedian that follows the guy who had them rolling in the aisles. Phil Jackson was a tough act to follow. Just ask Rudy T, ask Tim Floyd, ask Mike Brown.

Mike D’Antoni could have been the guy that simply followed Brown, they might have given him the keys to the city. But Jackson was back in the picture and for the most obvious of reasons – he was probably the best man for the job, having delivered great riches in the past. D’Antoni’s preferred system of basketball wasn’t suited for for the All-Star roster he inherited and it certainly wasn’t suited for a revolving door of injuries. A pretty rough season followed.

The Lakers lost another giant recently, someone whose greatness defined the team’s identity and direction. Kobe Bryant rounded the corner on Harrison Barnes and headed for Achilles surgery and a new found hobby of tweeting. Who knew?

Things can turn on a trifle as someone used to say. The loss of Bryant was both stunning and surreal and a couple hundred epic articles dropped over the next 24 hours and observers burped and patted each others backs and headed to the sink with the dishes, ready to rinse and wash and move on to the playoffs. In this particular narrative, non-Laker fans could afford to be magnanimous with their sympathy – you guys always have next year. Or not.

A funny thing happened at the tail end of the regular season. In the absence of certain giants and expectations, a team began to form their own ad hoc destiny. You can’t really label them bad news bears, not when fronted by Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. You also can’t pin the month of April on the loss of Kobe and some new found freedom. The Lakers went seven and one and five of those games saw Kobe playing insane minutes and carrying much of the load.

Sometimes, you just have to watch. One of Mike D’Antoni’s pet phrases is ‘letting the ball find the open man’. He has no ownership of the concept, it’s as old as the game itself, a guiding principal in the sport, sometimes honored and often ignored. Over the last two games, the ball has found new movement out of necessity. Guys are getting touches they didn’t get before. And who would have guessed that Andrew Goudelock would get a call-up and join Darius Morris on the floor during pivotal minutes in a seed-defining win?

It’s not simply the loss of Kobe that has caused a change in the team’s philosophy. Steve Nash has been out of action and may suit up on Sunday against the Spurs, depending on the results from two recent epidurals. Will his return put a damper on Steve Blake’s resurgent play? There are no simple answers.

To say it has been a season of adjustment is saying just a little. There have been recent moments that show an interesting unity however. A time out and coaches interact with their players. Dwight’s chatting with Bernie Bickerstaff, Chuck Person makes a point with Metta World Peace. D’Antoni calls the guys to gather and they’re paying attention. A group that has seen little time together on the floor goes back out there and gets some stops. Games are won ugly but they’re won. And the Lakers are in the playoffs with the seventh seed and if nothing else they’ve earned the right to keep playing.

Spring is regarded as a time of renewal and hope. It’s not always pretty, it follows in the barren footsteps of winter after all. The NBA season is too long for the health of its players. It affects all teams and the San Antonio Spurs will be heading into the first round with issues of their own. For the Los Angeles Lakers, it’s a transitional era in ways that are sometimes willfully ignored. Their earth has been mined and harvested, it is in need of replenishment and the new CBA has thrown a few obstacles into the mix. It’s not to say you can’t use your remaining assets though or that you can’t use them well.

The past, present and future of the Lakers has coalesced for the moment – it may not be the most stable of circumstances but there is at least some acceptance – from a head coach willing to let his team play to its strengths to a team willing to share, no longer bound to a singular voice. The expectations game will be back in the summer, one way or another. For at least this moment however, it’s simply the game of basketball.

I feel like, as a unit, we didn’t do what it takes to keep Brian Shaw, and that’s real disappointing. You can’t forget where you’re from. You can’t forget what you’ve been through. You can’t forget who helped you win a ring, who was there for you when you were frustrated or stressed out, and I’ve got to give credit to Brian Shaw for all of that. This doesn’t mean I won’t love Mike Brown. But for the next couple of months, I’m going to be disappointed about Brian Shaw.
-Ron Artest

Hoops Hype’s Roland Lazenby mentioned some of the changes we can expect to see with the Lakers in a recent post:

The NBA lockout will end someday, and when it does Los Angeles Lakers fans may well find themselves wishing it hadn’t.

Fans will discover they’re witnessing the new Lakers, the ones run by Jim Buss and built to cater in every facet to seven-footer Andrew Bynum, a nice enough 23-year-old kid with a dubious medical past and an even more suspect future.

Yes, aging star Kobe Bryant will still be a part of the equation, but he was put on notice over the summer when Jim Buss hired new coach Mike Brown without so much as a brief discussion with Bryant.

The message is clear: Brown is Bynum’s coach, and the team belongs to the young center as well.

Lazenby makes an interesting point, however, the above quote sheds an interesting insight on one of the lesser talked about changes/losses in the Lakers organization; not just the loss in Brian Shaw, but the collective loss of the emotional ties between the players and the previous coaching regime. With Phil Jackson retiring, a new player/coach dynamic is being brought in along with a new coaching philosophy. We aren’t just going to see a new offense and defense, but we’re also going to witness how Lakers players and coaches interact with each other as well — and this might be Mike Brown’s toughest challenge during his inaugural season.

The give-and-take between Kobe and Phil Jackson has been well documented, as well as the team’s collective hope to be led by former Lakers Champion and assistant coach Brian Shaw. These were two figures who not only held the players respect as coaches, but were guys the players were able to sit down and talk to about all things life. There is a culture that’s built within club houses, and while I couldn’t tell you exactly what that culture was like during Phil Jackson’s second tenure as the Lakers head coach, I can tell you without a doubt that the culture will be dramatically different with Mike Brown as the head coach.

We’ve seen in the past, especially with international teams, that consistency within the locker room can prove to be just as meaningful toward a team’s success as having talent. This dynamic is usually brought up when you talk about teams, but is equally as significant when talking about coaching staffs. Phil was able to select the right guys on his staff to mesh with the diverse group of players on the team to maximize their ability to succeed. It’s impossible to tell right now, but one of the things we might want to watch when the next NBA season starts is how well the players and coaches work with each other. Phil was very good at allowing his coaching staff to handle specific players or specific situations and stepping in when necessary. He was also very good at allowing the players handle some situations by themselves. We’re all well versed in the “Phil doesn’t always call timeouts” narrative, but one of the things that went relatively unnoticed was how often when he actually did call timeouts, either Fish or Kobe was coaching the other guys up.

The players are going to miss having Phil Jackson, Brian Shaw, Jim Cleamons and Frank Hamblen around for their basketball minds, but they’re also going to miss the mutual respect and camaraderie that came with the group. This is a veteran Lakers team that has been together for the most part, for the better part of three years with the same group of guys on the bench pointing them in the right direction both on and off the court. Mike Brown and his staff are very smart basketball guys, but I’m wondering if they’re going to be just as receptive to this team or if this team is going to be willing to open up to them. An NBA season is a long time to be around a small group of people, it’s going to take more than just being on the same page on the court for this team to really succeed in ways the roster suggests it can.

Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson (L) and guard Kobe Bryant watch the team practice for Game 1 of the NBA Finals basketball series against the Boston Celtics in Los Angeles June 2, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

It’s been a busy couple of days for the Lakers as training camp is about to begin and members of the organization have been talking to the press about the upcoming season.  Below are some of the recaps from various members of the press and/or blogosphere that were there for first hand accounts and few extra links for good measure.

*The man that everyone spoke to yesterday was Phil Jackson as he gave his annual pre training camp presser on all things Lakers.  He talked about this probably/maybe being his last stand (including a great line about Custer), about the “exhibition” games in Europe, about his decision to come back for this season, about Andrew Bynum, and much, much more.  For some excellent recaps for Phil’s discussion with the media, check out the summaries from Mike Trudell over at Lakers.com, the K-Bros at Land O’ Lakers, and Mike Bresnahan at the LA Times.

*As mentioned, one of the main story lines going into training camp relates to Andrew Bynum and how he’s still not fully recovered from his off-season knee surgery.  Which means he will not play in any of the Lakers pre-season games and may not even be ready for the start of the regular season.  This has brought Bynum some heat from the local media where questions about the timing of his surgery have been debated and young ‘Drew has pretty much been portrayed in a negative light.  I’m on the same page as Phil on this in that the surgery ended up being a bit more complex than originally estimated and that pushed back his recovery time.  And since the team encouraged ‘Drew to get away from the game for a little while, there is no blame to be laid here.  Bynum will eventually recover and he’ll contribute to the success of the Lakers this upcoming season.  That may not be in October but the team wants a healthy ‘Drew in May and June.

*Speaking of ‘Drew, over at Pro Basketball Talk, Matt Moore is also questioning Bynum and bringing up the long debated topics of laziness and work ethic and how it’s still tough to know what the Lakers have in their young Center (Moore also lists plenty of positives about ‘Drew – so go give it a read).  Let me say that while Moore makes some good points, I think the questions about Bynum’s work ethic are a bit misguided.  As I’ve said multiple times in the past, Bynum has improved too much in his career for folks to question how hard he’s worked.  When ‘Drew came into the league he was doughy teenager that had limited offensive skills.  Since his rookie year he’s transformed his body, refined his post game to the point that he’s effective finishing with both hands from both sides of the paint, has developed a good face up game, and has even picked up counters to compliment his go-to, pet moves.  He’s also worked his way back from some pretty serious knee injuries in order to become a major contributor to the Lakers’ success.  And while some of this development operated on timelines slower than what fans would have liked, the fact that he’s come this far shows the amount of work that he’s put in.  I just don’t buy that this kid is lazy or that his focus isn’t where it should be.

*Speaking of hard work, no one ever questions the effort that Kobe puts in during the off-season and this year is no different.   Based off what Phil has seen and heard from both Kobe and the Lakers’ training staff, #24 will be ready to go this pre-season and should even see some minutes during the games played in Europe after dealing with his own off-season knee surgery.  This is excellent news for the Lakers (and the paying customers in England and Spain) as we all want to see how Kobe looks (hopefully, well rested) and if his game is ready to go for next season.  One body part that may not be healed, though, is Mr. Bean’s busted index finger.  As Kevin Ding reported, Kobe has arthritis in the knuckle on that finger and there’s really no repairing that through surgery.  The hope is that he’s done enough strengthening of the finger through exercises and rehab to have it be less of an issue this upcoming year, but that remains to be seen.

*As for other training camp news, the Lakers have added a few more bodies to the roster as camp invites.  Four players in total were added and they’re back court players Trey Johnson Anthony Roberson and centers Andrew Naymick and Russell Hicks.  This brings the Lakers roster to 18 players heading into training camp.  Before anyone asks, I think it’s highly doubtful any of these guys make the team and are in Lakers camp to hopefully get some exposure around the league to make another roster or potentially get an offer from a European club (and considering the Lakers will be in Europe for part of the pre-season, this may be even more likely).  For a bit more of a background on Russell Hicks, check out the interview Henry Abbott had with his agent when talking about Russell’s invite to Lakers camp.

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Tomorrow marks the 65th birthday for venerable Lakers Coach Phil Jackson. With 13 rings as a player and coach already under his belt, the Hall of Famer has spent 20 percent of his life winning NBA titles. By now, we’re all familiar with his staggering career success rate—1,098 wins and a .705 winning percentage—so let’s instead celebrate some of Phil’s most memorable musings over the years, both from his books and via interviews. What are your favorite Jacksonisms?

“In basketball—as in life—true joy comes from being fully present in each and every moment, not just when things are going your way.”

“Good teams become great ones when the members trust each other enough to surrender the Me for the We.”

“Once you’ve done the mental work, there comes a point you have to throw yourself into the action and put your heart on the line. That means not only being brave, but being compassionate towards yourself, your teammates and your opponents.”

“Like life, basketball is messy and unpredictable. It has its way with you, no matter how hard you try to control it. The trick is to experience each moment with a clear mind and open heart. When you do that, the game–and life—will take care of itself.”

“I think the most important thing about coaching is that you have to have a sense of confidence about what you’re doing. You have to be a salesman and you have to get your players, particularly your leaders, to believe in what you’re trying to accomplish on the basketball floor.”

“Red and I, I think, have a mutual admiration. That’s all I can say.”

“If you meet the Buddha in the lane, feed him the ball”

“Despite their tremendous talent, (NBA players) are still, by and large, young adults, seeking validation from an authority figure, and there is no greater authority figure on a team than the coach. Needless to say, in today’s warped, self-indulgent climate, too many players couldn’t care less about appeasing the coach.”

“The best part of basketball, for those people on the inside, is the bus going to the airport after you’ve won a game on an opponent’s floor. It’s been a very tough battle. And preferably, in the playoffs. And that feeling that you have, together as a group, having gone to an opponent’s floor and won a very good victory, is as about as high as you can get.”

“Count me in. After a couple weeks of deliberation, it is time to get back to the challenge of putting together a team that can defend its title in the 2010-11 season. It’ll be the last stand for me, and I hope a grand one.”

As a bonus, check out the video below for an interview with Jackson, fresh after winning this year’s title.