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the Lakers organization did to Phil Jackson by placing a midnight call to him to inform him that the job offer had been rescinded.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.
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.
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.