January 18, 2018

Phil Jackson Spurned
I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 16 years, almost half my life. And I’ve had enough job interactions to recognize that what happened to Phil Jackson is status quo around here. It’s been my experience out here that it’s common to discuss salary, schedule a meeting with HR, then not get the job with barely an email acknowledgement of “fluidity in the marketplace.”

So I’m having a bit of a visceral reaction to what the Lakers organization did to Phil Jackson by placing a midnight call to him to inform him that the job offer had been rescinded. In my circumstances, I was applying for an entry level job, so there wasn’t much for me to do but shrug and move on. But in Jackson’s case, we are talking about an 11 time NBA champion, five of those with the very team that spurned him. While some details are still missing, it seems clear that the Lakers offered Phil the job. Phil asked to think it over, and they both agreed to talk on Monday. In fact, Jackson’s agent was scheduled to fly in on Monday to complete the negotiations.

More after the breakdown:

The Lakers were allowed to reflect on this decision. They are certainly allowed to consider how the Triangle offense would fit their personnel compared to Mike D’Antoni’s Pick and Roll. I simply take issue with the way they treated a coach that deserved much more respect than they gave him.

In our breakdown of why Mike Brown was fired, we made it clear that the offense was never the issue with this particular team. Even with Steve Nash sidelined for 80% of the games played this year, the offense was still ranked 12th overall. With Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant, and Dwight Howard, there is an overwhelming amount of talent scoring the basketball. It was the defense that so clearly was a problem.

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Time and again, the Lakers showed a lack of energy and (more importantly) philosophy. I could detect very little team-wide awareness of how to stop sideline screen and rolls, or contain dribble penetration. Most teams simply screened with Dwight Howard’s man, bringing him away from the basket to take advantage of his recovery from back surgery. That left the paint unprotected and exposed Pau Gasol as the terrible help defender that he is.

So the Lakers felt that Mike D’Antoni’s offensive system fit better for Nash and Howard. No need to consider Kobe Bryant, since he can flourish in any type of offense. That leaves Pau Gasol out of the conversation, and regrettably so. The power forward position in D’Antoni’s offense has traditionally been reserved for a player that can drive to the hoop and hit 18 foot jump shots. The challenge for D’Antoni is to give enough freedom to Gasol so he can find his natural niche on the high and low posts.

There is no doubt the Lakers will get an injection of energy and efficiency from D’Antoni’s system. This will enable them to outscore more than half the teams in the league. But it’s their matchup with the top 4 or 5 teams in the NBA that needs further scrutiny. It’s what held D’Antoni teams back in the past – a lack of elite teamwide defensive ability, and an offense that consistently create good shots. With so much ball screen action, the elite defensive clubs can limit the amount of good shots, particularly in fourth quarters of tight games, when the pace naturally slows and the pressure builds.

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The Last Laugh: Kobe’s lack of respect for Danny Green
While Phil Jackson will get over this slight, this episode highlights a bit of dysfunction that exists in the Lakers management. And perhaps this dysfunction has drifted down to the court, where Kobe’s hubris has led to disintegration of many team oriented principles. Last night’s loss to the Spurs personifies that trait – as Kobe was seen biting his jersey during the play where his man hits what turned out to be the game winning shot. And his reaction? See for yourself.


Coach Nick

Coach Nick is the founder of BballBreakdown, coached the Triangle Offense at the high school level, and counts Tex Winter and Pete Newell as mentors. For more of our conversation, follow him @BBALLBREAKDOWN.

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  • You bring up good points. When you look at the elite teams, it’s not just the coaching, it’s also the bench. Maybe Jamison and Meeks will prosper with D’antoni style system. And you will need to play defense and understand how to handle those key moments at the end of the game. The lakers played pretty good d against san anton, but we will need better coaching and better defense in the playoffs. Gasol’s play has dropped considerably since the last championship. It’s hard to tell if you look at his numbers, but his presence on the court is much weaker than when he plays with the spanish olympic team. The mental aspect of the game for him can get in the way of his play. 

  • I noticed, Coach, that you didn’t mention whether or not you thought Phil Jackson was a good choice depending on the situation.

    Considering Jackson’s health and the Triangle Offense, I think he would be having the same issues that Mike Brown has, but in a different way. With little time to implement his offense and even less time to win it all, it seemed like a bad idea after the Lakers threw out everyone he ever liked in the coaching staff. It seemed they would need to reload the entire staff, and even then it’s hard to imagine using Nash in an offense that doesn’t let him handle the ball.

    I personally believed that the best option was Jerry Sloan. Even if they didn’t win the championship this year, you could bet that the turn-around would be huge; he coached one of the best (if not the best) PnR combos in the history of the game and consistently leads teams into the playoffs. Even with an aging Nash, giving him the reins would have the most balanced attack. And if things didn’t work out, having a team that’s willing to spend money would solve some of the problems he had in Utah during his last few years.
    While Mike D’Antoni is a good offensive coach, as you’ve already said the problems with the Lakers are mainly with their defense and this choice is the worst of any other ones out there based on that knowledge. I’m hoping that since the main storylines so far in this season are the Clippers, the Lakers, and the Thunder (w/o Harden), that you’ll take the time to throw in a little breakdown on who the Lakers’ best coaching choice should have been based on the Lakers’s struggles and their player personnel.

    I just want to take the time to say that it’s amazing to see someone who looks at the game in the same kind of way that I do. It’s an amazing thing.

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