Archives For Phil Jackson

More Mailbag!

Darius Soriano —  August 17, 2010

Lamar Odom tries to shoot around a reporter's microphone while being interviewed at a U.S. national basketball team practice in Las Vegas, Nevada July 21, 2010. REUTERS/Laura Rauch (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

It’s time for another installment of the FB&G mailbag.  If you’d like to submit a question, click here and fire away.  Thanks again to everyone that has sent in questions.  Here we go…

When Phil Jackson retires, does that mean the end of the Lakers’ championship window? After all, the all-powerful team has been struck down a notch and the HEAT has garnered a year of experience for themselves. As a Laker fan, it is the season after this that has me most worried.

-Anonymous

I think losing Phil Jackson will be a blow to the Lakers.  However, I would not say that the Lakers championship window would “close” based solely off the fact that Phil would no longer be the coach.  Because, while extremely important, there are many other factors that go into winning a championship besides coaching.

At the top of that list is talent and, even without Phil as the head man, the Lakers will still have one of the best rosters in the league when Phil departs.  Just when looking at the Lakers top 5 players – Kobe, Pau, Bynum, Odom, and Artest – you have the makings of a championship roster, even if we’re talking 3 years from now.  And this only references talent that is in house and on the court.  When you look at Mitch Kupchak’s recent ability to build a championship team by drafting well and winning trades, it’s easy to forecast the Lakers continuing to build a strong roster even as the team ages – especially when considering the market advantages the Lakers possess by being based in Los Angeles and the brand advantage they have of being one of the most storied organizations in all of sports.

And while I agree that there are fast rising teams around the league (Miami, OKC) and traditional powers from the past few seasons (Orlando, Boston, Spurs) it’s still unknown how those teams will develop and grow over the next few years.  Will the new collective bargaining agreement be an impediment to building upon their already impressive rosters?  Will the Heat and Thunder respond to heightened expectations and beat back the pressure in a manner that leads to them dominating the league?  I don’t pretend to know the answers to the these questions nor do I want to cast doubt on either of these teams.  But in the end, I believe the Lakers will be right there battling for the title for seasons to come.  And as a fan, that’s really all I can ask for.

Do you think that with the recent additions of Matt Barnes and Steve Blake that the Lakers get into the top 10 in 3 point shooting?  I know these past few years the Lakers have not been a great perimeter shooting team (for example, when facing the zone defense vs. Phoenix in WCF).

-Daniel

Considering the Lakers tied for 23rd in the NBA in 3 point FG% last season, if next year’s Lakers were to jump into the top 10 would seem like a miracle.  However, it’s actually not that far fetched.  Consider the following:  last season the Lakers shot 34.1% from behind the arc, making 532 of their 1,562 attempts.  As I mentioned, that ranked them 23rd in the NBA in 3 pt. FG% (tied with Minnesota).   Denver was the 10th ranked team in the NBA, shooting 35.9% on their long ball attempts.  Using this past year as a template, the Lakers would have only needed to hit 33 more three pointers on the same number of attempts to raise their percentage to 36.2% – a percentage which would have ranked them 9th in the NBA right above the Hawks.

Now also consider that this past season both Kobe and Derek Fisher shot below their career averages by shooting 32.9% and 34.8% respectively (compared to 34% and 37.3%) and were well below their averages from the season before (35.1% and 39.7% respectively).  So, if Kobe and Fisher revert anywhere close to their career averages, the Lakers should be a better three point shooting team next season overall considering that combined, Kobe and Fish took about one-third of the Lakers attempts from deep.  Then, when you replace Farmar with Steve Blake and consider the possibility that Ron Artest will be more consistent from three point land next season and you have the ingredients for a major jump in three point shooting accuracy.

This isn’t to say that I’d call this particular Lakers’ team a great shooting team.  Nor am I guaranteeing that all the things I mentioned earlier are sure to happen or are even likely (I could see Kobe struggling from deep again and/or Fisher continuing his regression as a shooter), but the potential for a big jump in three point accuracy is there for this team.  And in the end, I do believe that the Lakers will shoot better to the point that if they aren’t in the top 10, they’ll be right on the cusp.

I understand that Shannon and Sasha have different weaknesses and strengths.  But why did Sasha fall out of favor with Phil and the coaching staff and not get any burn last year while Shannon got a lot despite a regression in his game?  Is it a personality issue?  Is it because Sasha got almost the entire 09 regular season to show what he had and Phil finally lost patience? 

If that was the case, was last year’s regular season the same principle applied to Shannon?  He had a great 09 playoff run so coaches gave him the entire 10 season to work through his game like they did with Sasha in 09. 

Will Shannon be on a tighter rope this year and the coaches looking at him and Sasha equally?  Or does Sasha’s personality bother the staff so much that he’ll be glued to the bench unless there’s a huge separation between him and Shannon.

-Jason/Chownoir

Not being in the locker room or in the practices, I can’t speak to any potential personality issues that exist between Sasha and the coaches.  And while Sasha did have that spat with Brian Shaw that earned him an extended stay in Phil’s doghouse, Sasha’s minutes were sporadic at best to that point in the season.  So, I believe that Sasha’s shorter leash has been based off his experience in the league and specifically his tenure on the Lakers and in the Triangle offense.  Essentially, Sasha should been better tuned into how the coaches wanted him to play and acted accordingly.  The fact that he still made the same mistakes that he’s been making for several seasons all while not bringing the consistency as a shooter that earned him time in 2008 led to a diminished role and a lower tolerance of his mistakes.

Meanwhile, this past year was Shannon’s first full year with the team.  To be fair, he was still learning his role and was still feeling out the Lakers’ sets.  And while Shannon made plenty of mistakes too, those could easily be explained away by his relative inexperience in the Triangle at a time when the Lakers coaches were (seemingly) imploring him to explore more facets of his game.  Personally, I was frustrated at times with Shannon’s decision making, but along the same lines, players do not improve if you don’t give them room to fail and then learn from those mistakes.

All that said, I do believe this season will be the litmus test for Shannon and that there will be greater expectations on him to perform well and do so within the confines of his role.  I think the coaches will be less patient with him and that he may too find himself glued to the pine if he doesn’t “play the right way” by making the correct reads and moving the ball in the manner that every player is expected to do.  Remember too that Shannon saw his minutes greatly reduced in the Finals when he made several defensive mistakes against Ray Allen while struggling on offense himself.  Phil then turned to Sasha as a defensive presence against Allen and the Machine performed well in his limited minutes.  So next season, even though Shannon just got re-signed and Sasha is reportedly on the trading block, I believe this competition may be more open than a first glance suggests.  I think that Shannon definitely has the upper hand as he’s the more athletic player, seemingly takes coaching better, and has more upside as a contributor on both ends of the floor.  But, that doesn’t mean that Sasha can’t/won’t have a role if he’s on the roster and next season may prove to be the year that the Machine makes his way back into the rotation.

For the last 3 years the top of the West has been in a constant state of flux. We’ve faced 3 different teams in the WCF, and the first 2 (San Antonio and Denver) have both failed to win a playoff series the following year. That trend looks likely to continue with Phoenix losing Amar’e.  With all that said, who do you see emerging as the main threat to the Lakers’ conference supremacy in 2010/11? I think Portland and Houston will be very dangerous IF their big men are healthy. What’s your take?

-Joel

I think the easy choice in who will truly challenge the Lakers are the Thunder.  The argument is easily made that, besides the Celtics, OKC gave the Lakers the stiffest challenge of any competitor and that with the experience they’ve gained and the continued growth of Durant and Westbrook that they’ll make a major leap next season and be a team that makes the conference finals.

However, the team that I’m probably most high on is the Houston Rockets.  In a recent post at TrueHoop, I mentioned why I believe Houston has a chance to step up and challenge for the #2 spot behind the Lakers and I’m not wavering in that belief.  Yes, a lot will depend on the health of Yao and Kevin Martin.  And as I mention in TH piece, I’m skeptical about the individual defense of Aaron Brooks, Scola, and Brad Miller.  However, when it’s all said and done I think their combination of top notch talent (I truly respect Yao Ming and think he has a tremendous impact on both ends of the floor), role players, and coaching will take them a long way this season.  Plus, I really like the acquisition of Courtney Lee in the Ariza trade.  While I love Trevor and think he’s getting a bit of a raw deal in the analysis of how he played last year, I think Lee is a great combo guard that will bring some of the guard skills that Ariza lacked.  I also think he’s a versatile enough defender that he can play some PG against the CP3/Deron/Paker/Nash/Westbrook’s of the world that Houston doesn’t always need to close the game with Brooks or Lowry while also being able to play next to either of those guys if the line ups dictate it.  Mind you, I don’t think Lee is some sort of star, but he’s another very good role player that will compliment the games of Martin and Yao very well.

(With Lamar Odom joining Team USA for the World Championships this Summer) Do you think the wear and tear will affect Odom come the season? Will he get the training camp jitters out now or will he be bringing in a new sense of discipline this year?

-Travis

There’s always the concern that playing for Team USA will wear Odom down.  He’s not the most durable player to begin with (though he’s been much better in recent seasons) and there’s surely a chance that he could end up suffering during the season from tired legs or just feel the affects of playing summer ball at the World Championships.

All that said, I think this is a great thing for Odom and will serve him well in preparing for the upcoming season.  Based off his tenure in the league, Odom will be a leader on this team and that will require a focus and discipline that should help him when the Lakers pursue their third straight championship.  I also think playing some Center in the international game is a good prep for his role on the Lakers as it will require that LO rebound and defend the paint while also moving well off the ball when teamed with explosive guards and wings.  Plus, just as with the Lakers, Odom will come off the bench for Team USA so there will not be a big change in his current role in LA.  Really, outside of the injury/fatigue risk, this should really help Odom in getting ready for the upcoming season and I’m really happy that he’s getting the opportunity to play.  I’m a firm believer that nothing get’s you ready for a season quite like playing with other excellent players and Odom will get that chance with this group.  And while the most talented guys won’t be on this particular U.S. team, this should still be a beneficial experience for LO and one that helps the Lakers.

June 17, 2010 - Los Angeles, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES - epa02208512 Los Angeles Lakers' head coach Phil Jackson points during a play against the Boston Celtics during the second half of game seven of the NBA Finals at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, USA, 17 June 2010. The Lakers defeated the Celtics 83-79.

The calendar has turned to August and news surrounding the Lakers roster is starting to dry up.  However, there’s still some news to report and we’re here to give you the most updated information we can…

*For those concerned about the hold up in Phil actually signing his new contract to coach the Lakers, fret no more.  Mr. Eleven Championships has finally put pen to paper to return as head man of the defending champs.  And while there aren’t a lot of details about the deal (really, there aren’t any details in regards to years, dollar amounts, incentives), we can all breath a bit easier now that Phil is officially back pacingsitting on the sidelines and stoically not calling timeouts as the Lakers pursue another championship.  Not that I was ever concerned about his return.  I will, however, be waiting on any information about the actual terms of the deal whenever those are released.  Is it a one year deal as expected?  How much (if any) of a paycut did Phil take?  Do incentives still exist for winning the championship?  Curious minds want to know.

*Phil’s assistants – Brian Shaw, Frank Hamblen, and Jim Cleamons – have also all been brought back into the fold.  And special assistant Chuck Person has had the “special” lifted from his title and is now just a plain ol’ assistant coach.  I’m happy for the return of “The Rifleman” as he did a lot of good work behind the scenes(h/t to Land O’ Lakers) and got a lot of good ink during the playoffs for helping Kobe refine the release on his shot due to his busted index finger.  On a side note, Person was a player that I always liked during his playing days.  He may not have been much of a defender, but he was a fiery competitor that could fill it up from anywhere on the court. 

*With the coaching staff now settled and back in full, the last questions have to do with who (if anyone) will fill out the Lakers roster.  The Lakers are still in talks with Shannon Brown’s agent about a return of WOW and I’m hopeful that something can be worked out so that he does indeed return.  I’ve noted (and we can all agree) that Shannon has holes in his game and that he’ll likely never be a starter on a team the caliber of the Lakers (especially not with #24 in the mix).  However, his athleticism and want to play the right way are excellent traits to have on a team and I think he’ll continue to make strides in his development to the point that he can be a steadier contributor in future seasons.  Plus, as we’ve discussed, Sasha’s contract runs out after next season and Matt Barnes’ deal has a player option after next season.  It’s quite realistic that the Lakers could be looking for another back up on the wing after next season and Brown could easily be that guy if Sasha/Barnes do in fact leave.  If the Lakers really like Shannon (and it seems like they do), it seems like a good idea to make a commitment to him now so that in another year they’re not right back where they are now – looking for a back up for Kobe.

*Speaking of Sasha, there have been reports recently that the Lakers are looking to get rid of his contract.  One report had the Lakers looking to trade Sasha for Delonte West in a deal that would save a couple million dollars (including the luxury tax payment) as West makes less than the Machine.  This led to speculation that the Lakers would add another head casein the talented, yet troubled combo guard.  However, now that West has been waived by the T-Wolves that rumor can go away as West is a UFA and can’t be traded for any longer.  All that said, I think we should point out (as Kurt did) that any acquisition of West would likely have led to the Lakers waiving the guard who only had a partial guarantee on next year’s contract.  That would have saved the Lakers some real money and freed up both the cash and minutes that Shannon probably craves from any of his suitors.  Anyways, now that any deal for West is dead the Lakers are likely still trying make a move with Sasha though no one knows if they’ll actually make progress on that front.  It will be interesting to see, however, if the Sasha’s status with the Lakers influences any of the ongoing talks with Shannon’s agent.

*The Lakers still have not signed either of their rookies to contracts, but I have not heard of any snags in that department and anticipate that both Ebanks and Caracter will be signed to deals at some point before camp begins.  As I’ve expressed before, I’m high on both of these kids as talents and think that Mitch got two steals at points in the draft that don’t typically produce NBA caliber players.  And while I hesitate to take too much from their summer league performances, I believe that both of these players have enough ability to step in and play moderate minutes in a pinch as they both have a maturity to their physiques and games that could translate to the NBA right away.

It’s Mailbag Time

Darius Soriano —  July 7, 2010

May 04, 2010 - Los Angeles, California, U.S. - Los Angeles Lakers head coach PHIL JACKSON (center), assistant coaches BRIAN SHAW (L) and FRANK HAMBLEN in the Game 2 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series. The Lakers won 111-103.

Welcome to FB&G’s first attempt at a mailbag.  Thanks to all of you that submitted questions.  If you’d like to submit a question for future installments just send me an email and put “mailbag question” in the subject line.  Here we go…

Do you see a possibility of Phil sliding into a Tex Winter type role after next year?  Come in during training camp and a couple times during the season to help out and tweak things.  Or is the personality going to be so strong and Shaw still trying to establish himself that it would be a bad idea?  Or at least not the first year of Shaw being the head man.  But the second year.  Phil had no problem acknowledging that Tex mentored him right from the get go.  It’d be an interesting proposition.

-Chownoir

While I think Phil will have some sort of role with the Lakers after he’s finished coaching, I don’t think he’ll be a “Tex Winter” type of advisor to Brian Shaw.  Remember, Tex was very visible in practices and behind the bench and his voice was heard consistently while his health permitted him to be part of the team.  I hope that Phil would make himself available as a resource to Shaw (assuming Brian is the man chosen to replace Phil), but I think those communications would happen behind the scenes, not in practices or in training camp.  In the end, I think Phil taking too active a role after his retirement from coaching would be a bit of a conflict for the players and could potentially undermine Shaw’s role as the head man.  Remember too that by the end of next season, Shaw will have just completed his 6th season as an assistant to Jackson.  He’ll likely have learned as much as possible from Phil in terms of schemes and tactics and it will then be up to Shaw to take what he’s learned and incorporate that into his own coaching style.  From everything I’ve read, Shaw has the respect and ear of the players so his message should be well received.  It’s just a matter of his message and guidance then producing results.  And while I have confidence in Shaw as a head man, we’ll see how he does when that day comes.

If Ron Artest plays at more or less the same level as he did in Game 7, is any team going to be able to beat the Lakers if they stay healthy?

-Marv

If Ron plays at his game 7 level, no, the Lakers can’t be beaten with an otherwise healthy roster.  That said, I don’t think the Lakers are going to get that type of performance consistently from Ron.  In that game, Ron not only played excellent defense (which is a given) but his jumper was falling (for the most part) and he was making the type of instinctive basketball plays – at least on offense – that he hadn’t for most of the year.  Playing at that level consistently is difficult when the opportunities are packaged to fit a role player.  What I mean by that is, in game 7 Ron took 18 shots which was his high FGA for the season and in the future, I think he’ll still be slotted behind Kobe, Pau, and Bynum and will have to continue to try and do more with less.  However, I do believe that Ron will improve in future seasons and we’ll see better efficiency in his shooting numbers and a greater understanding of how to play within the Triangle.  That may not equate to a “game 7 level  performance” all the time, but I think we’ll see less extremes in performance where Artest gains consistency.  Which, in the end, will mean an even stronger Lakers team.

There has been a movement throughout the NBA to look past traditional statistics and look deeper into what the numbers mean. Many teams are adopting ABPRMetrics, such  as the Rockets, Mavs, Nuggetsand Trailblazers, even going as far as to employ a statistician on staff. Then there are teams that are “old school” and rely almost solely on the word of scouts. Which camp do the Lakers fall into, or is it somewhere in between?

-Phil

From everything I’ve read, the Lakers have yet to fully embrace the “Moneyball” movement in Basketball.  But, this shouldn’t be surprising considering the philosophy of Phil Jackson’s coaching style.  Phil teaches a specific system that isn’t about statistical value but rather how pieces fit to form a team.  From an outsiders perspective, Phil’s approach is one where the team is  a living, breathing organism that must find a way to function together in a way where stat driven lineups don’t matter as much as the decision making as a group being on the same page with the results produced being dependent on the team seeing the same picture while on the court together.  And while I think there is merit to looking at advanced stats or adjusted plus/minus to seek out trends and what helps or hurts a team, I also think there is value in things that can’t be measured by stats.  A great example of this would be the debate about whether Fisher or Farmar should have been the starting PG this season.  All the advanced stats showed Farmar to be the more effective player on both offense and defense and that the team performed just as well, if not better when Farmar played with the player combinations that Fisher played the majority of his minutes with.  However, what the stats didn’t measure was Fisher’s propensity to hit the big shots, organize the offense in a way where the best players got more touches, or how his leadership helped stabilize the team in moments where it was needed most.  I do think as advanced stats become more common place in the NBA, more teams will embrace them as a tool, but I think there will always be a place for making coaching decisions without the influence of numbers and by following a “gut feeling” or by judging a situation based off how the pieces “fit” from a chemistry standpoint rather than a pure production one.

How long will Bynum be out at the start of the season? How long does a full recovery take?  Since Kobe’s taking time off from playing for the first time in years, will all his various ailments be 100% come the start of the season?  I know it’s for developmental players, but the triangle is so hard to learn and fit into for most players, would it make sense for Blake to get some burn in the summer league?  Thanks, love the site.

-SS

We’ll take these in order.  First, I think Bynum will be fully recovered by the time that the season starts.  Estimates on recovery time are from anywhere from 2-4 weeks (Brandon Roy came back in less than two weeks these past playoffs), so I think if Bynum has his surgery by the end of this month, he’ll be ready to go by the time training camp in underway in late September/early October.  Second, I think Kobe’s ailments will be as good to go as possible by the time the season starts.  However, understand that Kobe’s ailments aren’t the type that will magically go away.  His finger is arthritic and it may never be the same again.  He also has tendinitis in his knee and that is something he’ll have to deal with for the rest of his career.  All that said, Kobe’s shown a dedication to his body and physical conditioning that few others have and he’s consistently finding ways to be effective as his athleticism/physical peak decreases.  So, I’m confident that Kobe will be good to go and that he’ll definitely benefit from the time off.  As for Blake and Summer League, I just don’t see it happening.  Blake is a smart player and I trust that he’ll pick up the schemes rather quickly.  He’s known to be a student of the game and as a traditional Point Guard, a player that prides himself on being an extension of the coach on the floor.  So, while the nuance of playing in the Triangle can be something that takes time to learn, I think Blake will adapt well and be able to contribute rather quickly without much hesitation in where he needs to be within the confines of the Lakers’ sets.

Would you please provide a primer on seeing Summer League games in person?  I think I – and perhaps many others – are ready to take this next step to basketball geekdom.

-Rick

When looking at a team like the Lakers, I think the best way is to focus on the players that the Lakers have an investment in first (Ebanks, Carracter) and then see if anyone else stands out in any meaningful way.  I know that I’ll be focusing on the two Lakers rookies, but then I’ll also be paying special attention to Green and Kurz, just because of their past NBA experience and the fact that they have skill sets that the Lakers could use on their team.  All that said, when you have a championship roster (like the Lakers do) there’s little chance that any player from Summer League team is going to make any sort of meaningful impact during the regular season.  And while some of these guys may get a camp invite, most are likely using their time on the Lakers’ roster as an audition for other teams.  Remember, there are scouts and talent evaluators from every team at the Summer League’s and they’re all looking for that potential player that can come in and compete for a roster spot.  And while the Lakers may not be the team that takes a flyer on a player, another team may.

Did the lakers not try to sell the Bynum for Bosh deal?  Bynum is not going to last and we would be smart trying to deal him while he is young and has value. The lakers are in their last 3 year run starting now so a Bosh or top talent would make sense. You go for the gold now.

-Eric

With Bosh seemingly about to sign with the Heat, I thought this would be a good chance to put this Bosh/Bynum thing to rest for a while.  I’m unsure of how “real” these Bosh for Bynum rumors ever were.  From a media and fan standpoint, this was a deal that made sense and I know there was speculation about both sides being “open” to the deal.  However, from the standpoint of what we know about the Lakers I’m not sure this information being out there actually makes sense.  Just consider this one point – How often, in the past several seasons, have we heard about a Lakers trade from the media before it actually happened?  There weren’t any indications of the Gasol trade or the Shannon/Ammo trade.  So, I have a hard time believing that the Lakers were actually the ones making waves about acquiring Bosh as they’ve proven that these types of leaks don’t happen when they’re serious about making a deal. 

As for the assumption that Bynum is not built to last, as cliche as this sounds – only time will tell.  The early results don’t look extremely promising as Bynum has endured several injuries that have limited him over the last three seasons.  However, the flip side of that coin is that most of these injuries have been fluke-ish and I’m not convinced there’s a trend of injuries as much as there’s been a trend of bad luck.  I’d feel different is this were a Sam Bowie situation where the same foot problem cropped up year after year, but that’s not been the case with ‘Drew.  His knee injuries haven’t been of the same variety and both happened in ways where you could easily say he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Granted, this doesn’t erase the fact that he’s been injured and his future is cloudy in this regard.  But, I do think he’s a player worth holding onto based off his (still promising) upside and the role that he fills on this team as a defender/rebounder and a guy that also allows Gasol to play PF for the majority of his minutes.  Within the context of this team, I think the Lakers mix of big men is the perfect blend and Bynum is – figuratively and literally – a big part of that.

James and Wade seem to be players that operate best when they have the ball, and are clearly double-alpha guys.  Does it really make sense to have them on the same team, or does that dilute their individual value?  Will they be at odds over control of the team?

-Marv

Another question that is relevant with the Lebron about make his decision tomorrow.  I’m honestly a bit on the fence with this one.  I think there will be times that one of either Lebron or Wade would be frozen out of the offense as the other player tries to create in a way that’s most comfortable to him.  However, I’m a firm believer in great players finding ways to figure things out and there aren’t too many players better than James and Wade.  Also, I think both players understand the game and play with a level of unselfishness that would aid in any potential partnership.  Remember too, these guys have played together on All-Star teams and on Team USA for the past several years.  They understand each other’s games and would find ways to compliment each other.  I also think that both players would be able to add on to and improve their respective games so that they’d find an even better way to mesh as their careers advanced.  In the end, there could possibly be issues of “control” or “who takes the last shot”, but I think a lot of those issues could be worked out if the team is winning and if there are people in coaching/management strong enough to corral their egos and have them focus on the ultimate prize.  And again, I think with great players that’s easier than with ones who “think” they’re great but really aren’t that caliber of player.  Wade and Lebron are the goods.  I think they’d work it out.

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.