Archives For Phil Jackson

[picappgallerysingle id=”9038844″]

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.