Archives For Phil Jackson

June 16, 2010 - Los Angeles, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES - epa02205959 Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson during practice on the off day before game seven of the NBA Finals at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, USA 16 June 2010. The series is tied 3-3 for the best of seven games.

You’ve read it in a thousand other places (including right here, yesterday), but Phil Jackson is coming back to coach the Lakers for one last year in the 2010-11 season.  I know many are waiting on the big name players to commit and sign on the dotted line, but in my mind there was no bigger decision looming than what Mr. Eleven Coaching Titles was going to do next season.  And now that he’s made up his mind, it’s time to explore what this really means to the Lakers and to the rest of the league.

Obviously from the Lakers standpoint, this is just tremendous news.  We know that Kobe and Fisher (and to a lesser extent, but still important way, Odom and Gasol) are the leaders of this team.  But Phil Jackson is the leader.  He’s the man that pushes all the right buttons.  The one that empowers others to take leadership roles and guides the rest of the players towards those voices.  The one that plants the seeds of success in practices, the film room, and timeouts.  The man is simply the best and having him sitting in that high chair on the sidelines is a sight that inspires calm from his team and demands respect from the opposition.

But superlatives aside, Phil Jackson is what this particular team needs – even if it’s only for one more year.  Understand that what the Lakers look to accomplish next season – a third consecutive championship – is damned hard.  It’s only been achieved three times since the mighty Bill Russell led Celtics of the 50’s and 60’s had their last hurrah and each time it was accomplished by a Jackson led team.  Phil is the only coach in the modern era to really know what it takes to complete this task and he’s the only one that I’d trust to actually pull it off (no disrespect intended to Brian Shaw or any other head coach in the league).

And really, what Phil will provide to this team is continuity and motivation to achieve.  The continuity part is self explanatory.  Jackson’s schemes – the Triangle on offense and the dogged man to man style on defesne – will remain in tact.  His communication style and established relationships with the current players will provide a stability that will surely be needed considering the task at hand.  There will be no disruptions in how practices/meetings are run; no differences in the points of emphasis that are communicated to the players.  The messages and the style in which they’re delivered will remain the status quo and for a group that needs to stay on the path towards repeating for a 2nd consecutive season, this will be invaluable.

And from a motivation standpoint, there be none bigger than winning one last ring for the coach making his final stand.  Going into this next season, every player will know that this will be the coach’s last season.  Every player’s focus will be on getting Phil that last championship that he can ride into the sunset with.  The want to send out the league’s greatest winner on one last winning note will be strong and will (hopefully) motivate every player on the roster to give their best effort in order to achieve this for the coach that they all lobbied to return.  There is no better way to show appreciation towards one of the best coaches ever than by giving him the swan song that he deserves.  So, besides the standard motivation that will come from trying to win a championship, I do expect this group of Lakers to give Phil their all.

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But now that Phil has committed, who will be the players that he’s directing?  In his initial statement to the press, he stated that it’s now time to build a roster that can properly compete.  And the Lakers still do have holes to fill.  They’ve yet to make a free agent signing but they have been linked to several players already.  So, in an effort to gauge what this team will look like come the start of next seasaon, I thought I’d look at a few of the names out there and explore their fit on this particular team:

*Derek Fisher: We’ll start with easiest name.  In my mind, Fisher is a must to return.  His leadership, knowledge of the Lakers’ systems, and dogged comptetiveness makes his signing the first priority for this team.  I do think his minutes will be reduced next season as the Lakers find a suitable player (either internally or on the open market) that will run the offense with discipline and work hard on defense (something that Farmar couldn’t always do).  But, in order for the Lakers to have the type of veteran presence and institutional knowledge that they’ll need on their journey, Fisher is a must to return.  Hopefully a deal to bring back the Lakers’ captain happens soon.  So that the Lakers can turn their full attention to…

*Mike Miller: I’ve stated that acquiring Miller is a pipe dream.  But he’s been the name that has been strongly thrown out as a Lakers’ target and that can’t be ignored.  As Reed mentioned to me in an email, “Miller is the prototypical non-superstar wing player for this offense” as his shooting, ball handling, and basketball IQ are all above average.  Defensively, he’s an above average rebounder (led the league in defensive rebound rate as a SG among players that played 10+ min/g and had a rate in line with Lebron if classified as a SF) and at least tries at the defensive end.  As a SF, his PER against is 15.7 (which isn’t bad, but is 16.9 as a SG) and he has the length to bother shooters and would surely benefit from playing with other elite defensive players that the Lakers could surround him with.  In the end, there are much more positives associated with Miller the player than negatives and he would be an outstanding get for the Lakers.  However, the cost of acquiring his services that are being floated by some media outlets – $30mil/5yrs is high in both total dollars and years commitment.  In the end, I could rationalize a deal like that, but it could potentially be a tough deal for the Lakers to take on both because of the luxury tax implicactions and his status as a 10 year veteran in this league.  Believe me, I’m hopeful the Lakers can land Miller but I’m not holding my breath nor am I getting to committed to the idea of it actually happening.

*Anthony Morrow: This is another player that has reportedly been contacted by the Lakers.  Like Miller, Morrow’s shooting and versatile game would be a welcomed addition to the Lakers.  What hurts Morrow’s chances of joining the Lakers is his status as a restricted free agent.  The Warriors have a chance to match any deal that Morrow signs and would have a week to make up their mind about whether or not to do so.  So, while Morrow would be a good fit, there are a few hurdles to overcome if you hope to see him wearing a Lakers jersey next season.  For those that have put their eggs in the Morrow basket, you may want to adjust your hopes.

*Steve Blake:  Blake is the name that’s been on the Lakers radar for months and is the fall back name for those that want to fill a need, but do so with a player that doesn’t have a lot of cachet.  Blake would be a great fit, splitting time with Fisher at PG and would provide that steady hand that the Lakers need from whatever PG is on the floor for them.  However, Blakes services will be in demand amongst many teams whose needs match the Lakers.  Orlando and Miami are two teams that come to mind immediately that could use a guard like Blake to help them in their pursuit of contending next season.  So, while Blake has seemed like a fall back plan and a guy that would surely be available I say not so fast.  Nothing is assured with this guy, but he is a player that I’d like to have as I think he’d be a real help to his roster with his ability to shoot, lead the second (and sometimes first) unit, and provide that veteran presence that the Lakers have been lacking in their reserve back court.

*Raja Bell: Bell is a player that the Lakers seemed hot after in the days leading up to free agency, but whose name has now dipped below the ones above his in this piece.  Bell’s “3 and D” game would be a welcome fit in the Lakers lineup, but going above a minimum salary offer is unlikely.  And if it’s a minimum offer from the Lakers or one from the Heat (Bell is from Floriday and played his college ball there), I’d have to think Miami would have the upper hand.

*Tracy McGrady: Ahh, the sexiest name of them all.  If there’s one player that many fans would love to see on the Lakers, it seems like it’s T-Mac.  Let’s just say I’m not as enthused.  Yes the upside and potential for a huge impact is there with McGrady.  Supporters see the all around offensive game, the size, and the pedigree and want him to run with LO on the second unit and envision dominant stretches from the LA bench.  Detractors see a player that is habitually injured, as streak shooter, a suspect “role” player, and someone that has never been known to play defense.  What the Lakers could actually expect from T-Mac is the biggest unknown from the group of players that’s been listted to this point.  And frankly, I’d rather have any of them before McGrady (with it being a close call between T-Mac and Bell).

*UPDATED, Dorell Wright: Wright is a sleeper candidate to be picked up by the Lakers this off-season.  He’s likely to be a cheap alternative to some of the other names mentioned (specifically Miller and Blake) and has an intriguing skill set that would blend nicely with the Lakers.  And while his name is not frequently mentioned as a target of the Lakers by folks in the media, Wright is a favorite amongst some fans due to his skill set and potential.  Wright is a multi-dimensional player that has improved his shooting (39% from 3pt range, 88% FT’s) and ball handling during his time in the league.  He’s also a very good athlete that possesses good size and excellent length and could be used as a defensive stopper on both the wing and on PG’s (a recurring problem for the Lakers over the years).  At best, Wright is a slicker shooting version of Ariza (and recent draft pick Ebanks) with a better natural shot and ball handling skills.  At worst, he’s an immature player that hasn’t shown to rise to the moment and could end up being let go by a team that is looking for reasonably priced young talent like he supposedly is.  If Wright could be had for a minimum contract, he’d definitely be worth the gamble as a prospect with upside and could potentially be groomed to play multiple positions on offense while guarding diverse players on defense.  He’d also give the Lakers an infusion of youth (24 years old) while still  being a veteran player (6 seasons of experience).  If the Lakers strike out with Miller and/or Blake, I would not mind if the Lakers took a flyer on Wright to be a multi-purpose back up that could be groomed by veteran players like Kobe, Fisher, Odom, and Artest to play a role in seasons to come.

*Big Men: There really aren’t that many bigs to choose from and it’s looking more likely that the Lakers may keep one of their own free agents here.  Powell and Mbenga have a familiarity that could be a welcome sight after many of the other teams make their pitches to the available bigs.  That said, Kurt Thomas, Anthony Tolliver, Craig Smith, and Joe Smith are all names that seem like good fits and are all still available.  It really just depends on what the Lakers want from a reserve big.  Last season, Mbenga and Powell barely played and surely would have liked more court time (though, being the professionals that they are, they never made waves or openly stated they were unhappy).  So, would Tolliver be happy in that role?  Would Craig Smith?  I have my doubts.  If the Lakers are going to pick up a big from the outside, it’s looking more likely that it will be a veteran player that’s a bit long in the tooth, but one that is a “pro’s-pro” and would be ready to play when his number is called and wouldn’t say a peep when his number wasn’t.  Honestly, if Kurt Thomas filled that role for the Lakers next season, things could be a lot worse.

In the end, there will be a new journey next season and their are good odds that one (or more) of the above names will join the Lakers in their pursuit of a ring in Phil’s final stand.  If I had to make a guess, I’d say that Miller is the primary target and Blake is the most likely addition. But, that’s just my guess.  What’s yours?

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Welcome to the longest week of our lives, Lakers fans…

*Phil Jackson is set to make a decision on his coaching future at the end of this week and honestly the waiting is going to kill me.  In the same way that Cavs fans are wondering if Lebron is going to stay or go, I’m wondering what Phil is going to decide.  Last week he said he’s leaning towards retiring, but recently also said that his 13 total championships (11 as a coach, 2 as a player with the Knicks) may be an unlucky number to stop at.  So, as like everything else with Phil, who knows what his decision is going to be.  I’m hopeful that he returns for at least one more season as an unprecedented 4th three-peat as coach is an achievement that he has the inside track on.  But as a fan of the Lakers, I’m selfish like that.  I want the best chance possible for the Lakers to win and that means a team led by Phil.  However, all we can do now is wait on his decision.

*If Phil does indeed step down as head man, the two names out there as potential replacements are Byron Scott and Brian Shaw.  Both of these guys are qualified head coaches in this league, but I’d definitely lean towards Shaw.  As Wondahbap detailed over at Silver Screen and Roll (with some opinions from other folks including yours truly),  Scott is a coach that has had good results as a defensive minded coach but often faltered with a grating style and  suspect offensive schemes.  I don’t think Scott is a bad coach (the Lakers could do much worse), but I think the continuity that Shaw would provide is an invaluable ingredient towards continuing the Lakers current run of success (an idea that Kurt over at PBT also makes quite well).

*However, if the Lakers really do want Shaw they’ll (potentially) have some competition for his services as the current Lakers #2 has been granted permission to speak with the Cavs as a candidate to fill their vacant head coaching post.  Uh, I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer to keep Shaw in house.  Even if Phil does return, I’d like to keep Shaw on the Lakers bench as a potential replacement whenever Phil does call it quits and so here’s hoping that Shaw stays in LA regardless of what transpires with Phil.

*The other big deadline looming is the beginning of free agency on July 1st.  And while the Lakers don’t have the cap space to pursue the big names of Lebron, Wade, Bosh, or Dirk, there will be things for the Lakers to consider when the clock strikes midnight Eastern (or 9pm Pacific) on Wednesday.  It’s now being reported and confirmed by his agent that Shannon Brown will opt out of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent.  My two cents on Shannon are good for him.  He’s now been a solid contributor on a team that won back to back titles and he’s looking to parlay that into a more secure financial future.  Remember, Shannon’s a player that was drafted late in the first round, never had his 3rd and 4th year options picked up and ended up playing for the bi-anual exception this past season.  He’s made about as much money in his career as Luke Walton did this past season.  So, I don’t blame him for trying to maximize his value, especially since after next season the collective bargaining agreement will likely affect the structure and pay scale of player contracts.  He really should try and get a good contract now.  The Lakers will also have to deal with the UFA status of Derek Fisher.  Not to mention making decisions on the restricted status of Ammo and Farmar (likely renouncing the rights to both players) and whether or not they want to offer contracts to Powell and Mbenga.  Lots of decisions around Laker land right now on what the composition of the roster will be next season.

*If the Lakers did have some money to spend on the big name free agents, it’s at least good to know that they’ve got the owner and the franchise that players would want to play for first.  This is where Dr. Buss really does deserve credit as he’s a smart business man that has truly capitalized on a great market (look at the Knicks and the Clippers as examples of how this can go wrong), has allowed other smart people to do their jobs, and has been loyal to current and former players while also not allowing himself to be walked on by any one.  Just a great, great owner.

*Lastly, I’m thinking of doing a mailbag every once and while but would like some feedback from you guys on whether or not this is something that you’d like to see.  I’d answer questions about the Lakers or the league in general and turn them into a post either once a month or every other week depending on the volume of questions.  Is this something you guys would be interested in?  Let me know in the comments.

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Growing up, I always remember my grandfather would make a point of trying to make a “life lesson” out of every little situation. He would sit back in his easy chair, flip the remote to whatever featured game was on TNT that night and share his words of wisdom about life and basketball. While I was eagerly anticipating the next great dunk by Kobe, he would labor on and on about the war and character, among other topics I tried to ignore at the time. Despite my best efforts, I realized years down the road that I actually absorbed a good amount of what he said.

In many ways, I think Phil Jackson has spent the better part of the past decade serving as the grandfather of the Lakers family. His unique vision has guided the Forum Blue and Gold through murky waters and heavenly heights. At the beginning of the decade, Jackson transformed an upstart, but immature Shaquille O’Neal-led squad into three-time champions. In 2003-‘04, he provided the glue that kept the team together when Bryant was flying back and forth between L.A. and Colorado courtrooms. After returning to his usual perch after a one-season hiatus, Jackson planted the seeds of success on a rag-tag team whose nightly outcome depended on Kobe’s heroics. Most recently, he was the commander in chief behind another back-to-back championship Lakers team. As of Wednesday, June 23, he is arguably one of the biggest free agents on the market this summer. With a decision on his future likely looming in the next few days, let’s take a step back and look at 11 lessons (in honor of the Hall of Fame coach’s record-setting number of NBA titles) that fans and players have accrued over the years.

1. Composure starts at the top. Through all of the volatility during Jackson’s Lakers tenure, his calming influence has served as the one constant that has helped steady the team amidst incredible turmoil. His now legendary decorum extends beyond off-court tension and dramatic losses; Phil also knows how to keep his team focused coming off a monumental victory too, as evidence by his teams’ remarkable winning percentage in closeout games. Over the course of an 82-game season and grueling two-plus months of playoff basketball, it makes all the difference.

2. Never underestimate the value of communication. Phil reminds me of a college professor with an “open door” policy; he has always made himself available to players and the media in a manner that few NBA coaches, past or present, have been able to match. Jackson refuses to coddle his players and is particularly selective when doling out praise. He also has no qualms with being direct with his players and letting them know exactly what he expects of them. There is a reason why so many players attribute Phil with their on-court improvement as he sets the bar higher than anyone else does.

3. Sharing is for grown-ups too. The very foundation of the triangle offense is built on passing, which is why Jackson has consistently made a point out of sharing the ball, dating back to his days as coach of the Bulls. It is a difficult mantra for players to buy into, especially superstars like Bryant and Michael Jordan, but once the sale is made, the results are incomparable.

4. Check your ego at the door. Jackson has had the good fortune of coaching some of the greatest players of all-time. While that unprecedented level of talent has led him to 11 NBA championships, it has also bred overconfidence from players at times. Phil never lets those egos get in the way of the team’s mission though; he is not afraid to knock a player off a pedestal when necessary. If Kobe has a 9-33 shooting night in a 22-point Lakers loss, Jackson will make sure his discontent is verbalized. Despite any in the moment anger, his players respect him as a result.

5. Quickly put out fires. I am not sure that there is another coach in NBA history – in all of sports for that matter — who has had to deal with more internal conflict than Jackson. It is perhaps this point more than any other that separates him from the pantheon of the league’s coaching elite. From MJ’s notorious stubborn streak, the Shaq vs. Kobe saga and the recent Ron Artest Twittergate, Phil has proven adept at diffusing fires and managing overpowering personalities.

6. Sometimes, you just need a pat on the back. As I mentioned before, Jackson’s definition of nurture does not exactly involve hugs and spoon-feeding. Instead, the coach adopts a more even keel approach that gently pushes players along without allowing them to become too excited or feel too down after a particular performance. Andrew Bynum, a player with whom Jackson has continually prodded seemingly since the day he was drafted, is the best example of this. Aside from the occasional gripe about playing time, Bynum has become one of the coach’s most outspoken champions.

7. Surround yourself with good people. Jackson happily relinquishes the role of dictator when it comes to coaching, instead employing a more communal style that involves an entire coaching staff or in his terms, a council of elders. Those who have watched a Lakers practice know that Phil’s voice is far from the only one heard. By spreading the love, Phil ensures that each of his players receives an equal amount of attention.

8. Let your freak flag fly. Meditation and carefully selected literature are not the only things that make the Zen Master one of the quirkiest characters the league has ever seen. Players and fans may scoff at his often-bizarre tactics, but with 11 championships, no one is complaining.

9. Mind games are not always for crazy people. Jackson knows exactly when and how to rattle his opponents. If you don’t believe me, just ask the trail of star players that the Lakers have left in their dust over the years. From rattling the Kings at the beginning of the decade to his public statements about Kevin Durant’s disproportionate number of foul shots, Phil is a true master of manipulation.

10. Keep your stars aligned. No matter what anyone says, it takes a special coach to lead a star-filled team in the entertainment capital of the world. Shaq, Kobe, Gasol, Malone and Payton are just a few if the Hall of Fame-worthy Lakers players with whom Jackson has molded. Part of keeping your stars aligned also involves the role of supporting characters like Robert Horry, Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom — something with which Phil has an intimate understanding. This delicate balancing act has resulted in five NBA titles in L.A. and potentially more on the horizon should he choose to return.

11. Expect the best. Jackson’s ear-splitting, manufactured whistle is often heard all the way up in the rafters at STAPLES Center, but overall, he is not a yeller in the same vein as a Pat Riley type of coach. Nevertheless, Jackson expects greatness from his teams, with anything else serving as a huge disappointment. His level of confidence and championship mentality permeates all areas of the team. Simply put, players who are coached by Phil wind up as better people both on and off the court.

Truth be told, it is virtually impossible to boil Jackson’s lessons down to the 11 we have highlighted. I suspect his value to the NBA is something that will only be fully celebrated after he eventually hangs up his dream catcher once and for all. Just like the day John Wooden left the game of basketball, this league will never be the same again. If last Thursday’s thrilling Game 7 victory was indeed the last cigar Phil will ever smoke, it has been a fantastic ride, filled with lessons Lakers fans and players will never forget.

SEC Mens Basketball Tournament Quarterfinal : Florida Gators v Auburn Tigers
It’s a cornucopia of stuff today.

Let’s start with Phil Jackson’s announcement that he may want to take some road games off next season and let Kurt Rambis coach them. I will say that once I started working for NBCLA.com this season and being credentialed, one of the first things I really noticed is that Phil Jackson is hurting far more than you see on the broadcasts. It is not easy for him to get around, and in person, watching him walk to the court and around the locker and interview room, it was far more evident how uncomfortable he is.

I think this is a great way to start the transition out of the Jackson era. Jackson not doing some of those back-to-back roadies, some of the taxing trips, missing eight games (give or take) is no big deal. The Lakers will have largely (or exactly) the same roster as this year, Phil has control of this team already, a few missed games will not hurt this. And it gives Kurt Rambis a chance to establish and prove himself. If Jackson is stepping into a consulting role (he’d never totally walk away) in the middle of a championship window the transition needs to be as smooth as possible (and the team should not dramatically move away from a triangle offense it is built to run).

A few fans balked at this because Rambis was not smooth as the coach for the one game he handled this year. But if you want to cut him out for losing one road game in Portland, where the Lakers haven’t won there since 2004, your criteria are a little to high. Rambis will get the chance to grab the brass ring, whether he does or not is on him. But he is a true Laker guy, he deserves the chance.

• This is one of those drafts that in five years is going to have fans of some (many?) franchises saying “How could you let Player X go by and draft some schmoe we cut three years later?” But right now, it’s so hard to predict who the schomes and who the stars will be. Outside of Griffin, there are major concerns in everyone’s game and to me this looks like a bunch of role players, especially once you’re past spot three or four. But a couple of these guys will step up over time, flesh out their game, and the GMs that pass on them will hear about it.

• The TrueHoop Network of blogs is hosting one large — Supersized! — live chat that night, and I will have a link to that up. The draft is not that but a deal for the Lakers fans but it will be a fun and exciting one to watch. And chat about. Also, check out the new TrueHoop Network podcast hosted by the brilliant Matt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm (and like every other blog in the universe) talking about the top few picks with the bloggers from those teams.

• There already have been and will be on draft night so many trades and moves that any mock drafts out there border on moot.

• I am holding out hope that somehow Nick Calathes drops through to us (not that optimistic, though). ESPN.com analyst David Thorpe told me he thinks Calathes will pan out to be the best PG in the draft.

• Long time friend of the site Xavier sent over some thoughts on two of the other Europeans that the Lakers are looking at. (For those that are new here, Xavier is a professional coach in Spain in the youth program that produced Ricky Rubio, he really knows his stuff and the European players).

Rodrigue Beaubois is a freak guy. He has the physical tools but still don’t know how to use them. Speed and athletic, with a superb wingspan, something like 6?10 or close (correct me if I’m wrong) measuring 6?2. Lacks of true PG skills and though being a good athlete doesn’t move his feet well on D. He plays in France, which isn’t one of the premiere leagues in Europe, so I haven’t seen him play against proven European players. Could be a project ala Sun Yue. Not worth of a 1st round pick if you want him to contribute but if he can wait in Europe a couple years.

The guy the Lakers should aim with its 42nd pick is Victor Claver. I was right with Marc Gasol, believe in me with this one. [Editor’s note, Xavier was telling me Marc was better than we all thought from the day the Lakers drafted him.] If Claver didn’t hurt this season, he probably would have been drafted in the early 20s. He’s not a star, but he really has the tools to be a good role player. At 6?10” is a PF able to move in both forward positions. Can finish at the rim at will and knows how to shoot the 3 (around 40% before injury) but lacks of shoot creation, most of his 3s come from spot up shooting. Slow defending at the wing but not rocky enough down the paint.

He’s pretty smart, doesn’t turn the ball over, mainly because he know what he cannot do and adjust to his role. Right now, after the injury I would not give up a 1st round pick on him, but that might be a blessing. Euros being projected in late 1st round prefer to be selected in the 2nd round because it doesn’t have the same salaries restrictions. They can stay in Europe and sign a better contract than a first round pick. Look at the contract Marc Gasol (former laker 2nd round pick) have in comparison to Farmar (1st round pick). So if Claver lived up to his expectations playing a year or two more in Spain, the Lakers wouldn’t be in the same situation Spurs are with Thiago Splitter, who’s not coming to the NBA because he’s a 1st round so his salary is determined, and he gets much much more money playing for Tau Vitoria.

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.

The Curious Career of Glen Rice

Gatinho —  January 15, 2009
Michigan V Illinois

In 1989 Glen Rice entered the national basketball consciousness by scoring 31 points for the Michigan Wolverines in 1989 NCAA championship game. Rice and Rumeal Robinson would lead the Wolverines to an overtime victory of PJ Carlesimo’s Cinderella Seton Hall team.

The shot was pure. The rim was a prop. The net’s movement, or lack thereof, a testament to the release, rotation, splash; culminating in a textbook follow through pose.

Career TS% .551
Career FG% .472

Rice honed his shot by staying out late at the playground as a kid. His reasoning, if he could make it in the darkened shadows of the park, shooting in the lights of the gym would be nothing. He would learn what a shot felt like rather than relying on his sense of sight, almost as if shooting by wrote.

“He can definitely make three-pointers with his eyes closed, as he proved during warm-ups recently.”

He would be drafted by the sad sack Miami Heat and quickly bring them out of the doldrums, leading them to the Conference finals in his first season. But Miami would turn out to be the first stop in what can only be called a basketball Odyssey.

pawn 1 n. – a person used by others for their own purposes.

The trade from the Heat would be the beginning of a string of teams, including the Lakers, who would extract from Rice what they would before jettisoning him unceremoniously. But unlike some of his other stops, Miami and specifically Pat Riley would initiate him into the harsh realities of NBA player movement, and this would be one of the few times where Rice did little to earn his fate.

“Rice says Heat president and coach Pat Riley told him not to pay any attention to trade rumors—when Riley called to inform him that he had been dealt to Charlotte, “I was on my way to practice when I got the call,” Rice says. “I just went back inside, sat down on my living room floor and cried.”

But if Rice thought being lied to, followed by being traded away, was tough to swallow, his misery would soon enough subside because in Charlotte he would see the personal and statistical high point of his career.

“I’ve been in zones before where you feel like anything you put up is going in. This feels different. It doesn’t feel like something I’m going to come out of. It feels like this is the way it’s going to be.”

Rice had previously dazzled the league with his shooting prowess, but in Charlotte he would learn to keep defenders honest with drives to the rim. These forays often resulting in fouls, and one can imagine how well he shot freebies.

He would scratch the surface of superstar status on his third trip to the annual no-defense-scoring-fest known as the All-Star game. With 20 points in the third quarter and 24 in the half, both All-Star records, Rice would earn MVP honors and a momentary spot amongst the NBA’s elite.

Losing Eddie Jones

On March 3, 1999 Rice would traded to the Lakers for fan-favorite Eddie Jones and not-so-fan-favorite and over priced Shaq-back-up, Elden Campbell. Charlotte was willing to trade Rice, who had been holding out, but the trade’s finalization languished as Rice recovered from an elbow injury.

In the strike shortened season he would average 17.5 points a game, down five points from the previous season, but this was to be expected when transitioning from being the first option to the third. Rice played heavy minutes in the playoffs and produced good numbers, but he couldn’t help the Lakers avoid another playoff departure that was once again deemed too early for the talented crew that Jerry West had assembled.

Buss vs. West vs. Jackson

With the signing of Phil Jackson, Rice’s career and ego would take the hit that it never recovered from. Phil wanted to swap Rice for Pippen and there was also a rumor of a Latrell Sprwell trade. But Rice was to be a free agent at season’s end and David Falk was talking max deal, succesfully squashing both trades in the process.

Compounding the problem was the Lakers system. After years of having coaches run plays for Rice that had him coming off screens a la Reggie Miller, the Triangle would turn Rice into a standstill shooter and the numbers would drop further. The lack of defensive skills would become more glaring as the Lakers began their march to a title. But the trouble wouldn’t make its way into the paper until the most inopportune of times.

”Jackson has never wanted Glen, he’s always wanted somebody like Scottie Pippen, and this is his way of getting back at management for not letting him make a trade…Jackson did not get his way with the general manager or the owner about trading Glen, so who pays for it? Glen does. How many players would have stayed as quiet for as long as Glen has? But finally, when the team is affected, you have to say something,” she said. ”Now if it was me, I would have already been Latrell Sprewell II.” Asked about his wife’s comments, Rice said he agreed with them.
-June 14, 2000

As the 23 game grind that was the 2000 Laker postseason wore on, it became evident that Jackson valued Rick Fox’s defense over Rice’s offensive output. Rice would see his playing time dip 10 minutes from the previous postseason under interim-coach Rambis, and his scoring plummet to 12.5 points per game. And his performance in game 1, a 1-8 stinker where he played 24 minutes, made matters even worse. But knowing what we know about Phil Jackson, Rice would have needed to be perfect on the offensive end to make up for the abuse Jalen Rose was laying on him on the defensive end.

Rice would rebound in Game 2 by scoring 21 points, but it was in the aftermath of a Kobe-less game 3 loss (7 pts., 3-9) that would see the two headed monster of bad D and an inability to keep his, and bizarrely enough his wife’s, mouth shut that would initiate the basketball tragedy that marked the end of his career and relegate him to one trick pony status.

“Rice admitted he would not be 100 percent focused in Game 4 but said he would dedicate himself to addressing the deficiency in his game that Jackson said was the reason he removed Rice in favor of Fox in Game 3.

‘I’m going to come out and be very aggressive on the defensive end…If I get beat, I never claimed I was the best defensive player on this team individually. Jalen’s a great player, and when I get beat I expect the help to be there.’

That’s right, Rice said ‘when’ he gets beat.”

Mixed up in all of this was the growing feud of West and Jackson. Many onlookers were already thinking that the beginning of Jackson was the end of West. There was also West’s increasing anxiety, which forced him to feel barely measurable relief when the team won rather than any modicum of elation. There were promises from Buss to Rice about an extension, and West’s resistance to working for a man who could not keep a promise. There was the fact that the player didn’t want to be a hired gun and that’s seems to be all that the owner wanted, and he had no problem lying about it to keep that player happy during a championship run. Finally, there was Jackson marking his territory…

“I play whom I want to play when I want to play them, and how they play and what I think is best for the team. That’s it.”

Things Fall Apart

The Lakers would win a title and Rice would get a ring, but Jackson wouldn’t get his Pippen, and West would retire using Rice’s treatment as one of his reasons. Rice would be traded as a part of the monstrosity that was the four-team trade that sent Rice to the Knicks, Patrick Ewing to the Sonics, and Horace Grant to the Lakers.

And what were the Lakers looking for when they added Grant? Defense and rebounds.

Rick Fox would be the beneficiary of all of this. Becoming a starter by default, he would shed the 25 pounds he gained to try to be the banger the “soft” Lakers lacked and return to the form that saw him scoring 16 points a game as a Celtic.

We know what came next for the Lakers, but what became of Rice? In New York he became their sixth man. He was then traded to Rockets a year later. After a two-year stay in Houston he would be traded to the Jazz and bought out. He would wind up as a member of the Clippers, who waived him after 18 games.

“So foul and fair a day I have not seen.”
-MacBeth ActI.iii

An NCAA championship, 14 years in the league, traded 4 times, 6 teams, 3 All-Star games, and a ring. To travel from All-Star game MVP to publicly feuding with your coach in the midst of a Finals that would see you win a ring, and then to end your career as a journeyman bouncing from team to team.

No other way to say it: Curious.

-Gatinho aka Scott Thompson

Lessons In Losing

Kurt —  January 8, 2009

Celebrities Attend Lakers vs Clippers Game
The NBA season is a long one, and every team has its ups and downs. In early December, the Lakers had one of their downs and much of the fanbase was freaking out., calling for trades and suggesting that there was just no way this team could win a title. Right now, the Celtics are in a down phase, and their fan base is freaking out, calling for personnel moves and suggesting that there was just no way this team could win a title.

To me, what has been different is how the coaches handled those streaks.

When the Lakers played like crap in December, Phil Jackson was coaching for April and May. He let them struggle, and while his placid style can drives fans nuts during a game against Sacramento, Phil knows it’s not about the Kings. A loss now can be a lesson learned as the team finds its own path. We all know from our lives, despite warnings from those in the know, sometimes we have to learn hard lessons for ourselves. And those are the lessons that stick. Phil puts out interesting lineups in the clutch in December seeing what worked and what didn’t. He tests players to help them and the team grow, and doing that means allowing them to fail. Coaches are competitive people, allowing a player and a team to fail is not in their nature, but Phil knows the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term gains.

There is no other coach in the league that has his eye on the big picture all season long like Phil, Greg Popovich could be the other. But those two guys have a lot of rings because they keep their eyes on the prize.

I’m not sure Doc Rivers can do that. Darius said it very well in the comments.

I think Doc (and this worked masterfully last season with a hungry group that had never reached the highest level) coaches to win every game and to maximize effort and production for every game. This goes hand in hand with KG, so for last year’s Celtics, I think this was exactly what was needed for them to win the title. It worked, so good on them. But now, this season, the Celtics are not as good, not as deep, and are coming off a 100+ game season where they played intense ball (or strived for it) every single night….and ultimately that same strategy is not going to work this season. Doc has to make adjustments, but with the makeup of his team (led by KG) I’m not sure if that’s even possible. They’re going to go hard every night, and that’s a tough thing to do when they’re in year two after a Finals win. Not because they don’t *want* to, but because it’s just a hard thing to do coming off the grind of a championship season.

Think back to the Lakers threepeat years earlier this decade. In those second and third title years, how truly impressive of a regular season team were we? How hard did we push for regular season dominance? The fact is we weren’t impressive or dominant in the regular season. In fact it was quite the opposite, we *flipped the switch* (as the pundits say) and dominated the playoffs (at least the majority of the series we played) and won multiple titles. Boston (and really Doc’s) goal should be to win the title. But he’s going to have to realize (and never being in this position before is going to hamper his ability to do so) that you can’t have a team play with maximized effort and energy for two straight seasons and 200+ games. Either he’ll learn or they’ll lose.

This is why I love our coach. People can complain about his style and the fact that he just sits there, but he wants his team to peak at the right time and he wants them to find their own path. How often does the General of the Army really go and give orders on the front line anyway? The soldiers, when in the heat of battle, need to know what to do on their own. He knows what he’s doing.

I like our army’s chances in June, in large part because of December.

“The 6’8″ Jackson’s wingspan was so prodigious that Bill Fitch (Jackson’s coach at the University of North Dakota) would often have him show off to NBA scouts with something called “The Car Trick,” in which Jackson would sit in middle of the back seat of a 1950s Buick and open both doors simultaneously.”

-Phil Jackson’s official Bio

Length… Sometimes referred to as a player’s wingspan or simply stating, “he’s long.” The famous poster of Jordan’s life size image with reaching “wings” while palming a ball comes to mind.

It’s the distance from the tip of the right middle finger, across and over the barrel of the chest, to the tip of the digits on the left.

Like Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man, most of us are square, symmetrical. Our wings comparatively clipped and matching the distance from the bottom of our feet to the top of our head. Embodying the architect Vitruvius’ idea that we were a walking 1 to 1 ratio.

“We found the proportion of Height to Wingspan to be 1.023 which is within 2.3% error of the established value of 1. The one-sample T-test concluded that there is not enough evidence to say the proportion is not 1.”

-Size of a Human: Body Proportions, The Physics Hypertext book

In his own lanky form, it seems Jackson would start to create a prototype of a defensive player. Of course coaches have always coveted length in players, but for Phil and consequently the Lakers, it now seems firmly ensconced as an organizational philosophy.

A philosophy that would begin with Phil himself and solidify in the 7 foot long outstretched arms of Scottie Pippen. The Bulls’ defense would be predicated on his quickness coupled with length.

The commitment to fielding a front court founded on length would be undeniable after the 2004 Finals, when one Kobe Bryant was single covered by Pterodactylean ridiculousness.

“Kobe had a hard time shooting over Prince,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said afterward. “I’ve never played against somebody that long before,” Bryant said.

Felix Gillette, Slate magazine, discussing the 2004 Finals and praising of the “lanky brilliance” of Tayshaun Prince.

(Gilette would also invoke Leonardo and Vitruvius and quote a study in the Journal Biometrika,“Only 9 percent of adult males have wingspans that exceed their heights by more than about 2 inches.”)

So when we see… Good close outs on three point shooters…rebounds kept alive by tips leading to second chance points…passing lanes being filled properly in the strong side zone preventing the skip pass…fronting the post effectively…altered or blocked shots…fundamental stay on the floor go straight up defense…say it along with Joel Myers…“The Lakers length is once again a factor .”

“The team is neither soft, nor scared of physicality, it’s just a little light in the pants. This is why our speed and length will be so important. What we lack in girth (not physicality) will be made up in speed and length, allowing us to choke off angles and get into passing lanes.”

Kwame a.

“The ball is just calling my name…I just go after it.”

Trevor Ariza

“He’s a legitimate, 7-1, long-wing-span, natural shot blocker, so add Andrew, it takes us to another level defensively.”

Phil Jackson on the Pau Gasol trade

You can’t teach length, but you can draft and trade for it.

-Scott Thompson aka Gatinho