Phil Jackson: Exit interview
When a coach's season adds a tenth ring to the collection and gooses an already gaudy winning percentage, his exit meeting tends to prompt little in the way of "What were you thinking when you did _____?" Such was the case with Phil Jackson's. No huge need to question coaching decisions, the rotation or approaches, because the end result is difficult to debate. Instead, Phil was mostly asked to clarify certain issues (health, free agency) or simply reflect on the championship run. So peaceful a mood that it wouldn't have weird for PJ to end the session by cranking up a Grateful Dead bootleg and "spinning" his way out of the room, rickety hips and all.
Actually, that would have been totally weird, but still pretty cool.
First, Phil addressed questions about his health, which appears to be the only potential road block in a return next season. He's feeling good, but issues flared up during road trips that require evaluations. No decisions has been made yet, to the best of my knowledge. Assuming PJ is in the pink and returns, he'd certainly like Trevor Ariza and Lamar Odom in the mix. Ever the optimist, Jackson sees this scenario as feasible, if not necessarily pain-free.
"I'm convinced we can get both of these guys back to play. Obviously, it's going to take sacrifice on many parts. Dr. Buss is not going to be able to do without having to make sacrifices at some level. We have to make sacrifices in other places in our organization to make room for their salaries. (Ariza and Odom) probably have to sacrifice something in the process if they want to come back. Nobody can eat their cake and have it both, in their situation. But it's possible to do it."
By the way, I've never heard that particular phrasing of "Have your cake and eat it, too." Zen Master needs to call the trademark folks ASAP just in case it sweeps the nation, ala Riles and "Threepeat."
Speaking of "Threepeat," does this team have what it takes to give back-to-back-to-back a whirl? Jackson didn't rule it out.
"Age-wise, it certainly favors this team. The team that did it in Chicago was an older team and the team that did it here in the first part of the decade was an older team than this team, so..."
Obviously, the cause gets helped if the roster remains intact, which raises the question of Kobe's ability to opt out for a new deal and whether he'd consider taking less money to ease Br. Buss' payroll. PJ just touched upon the "sacrifice" theme, so I asked if he'd encourage it from Kobe. Phil acknowledged that opportunity in 24's hands, but said he'd simply advise Kobe to do what's best for him without advocating a specific approach. There is, however, one favor he'll ask of Bryant: Being a relentless nag.
"I do want him to actively pursue and actively encourage these guys to come back, which he will."
It's fair to wonder why Phil even wants another go at this. What inspires a coach with ten titles and a bank account featuring quite the impressive string of zeros? Not the easy, breezy ride, that's for sure. "It is a long, arduous grind," admitted Jackson. Preseason, regular season and postseason games. Highs and lows, plus a fair share of aggravation. But if you're fortunate enough to emerge the last man standing, the reward for a coach who guided his players towards pure elation is beyond measure.
"It's a moment that's inspirational, and as a coach that gives you everything that you want. That's the feeling that you yearn to see your players have, that intimate desire to play together. To play with each other and for each other."
After revealing how the champagne bath felt ("cold"), Phil answered BK's question about "signposts" indicating a championship could be in the works. Specific clues stood out during the series against Houston (Jordan Farmar picking up the ball for a suspended Derek Fisher in Game 3, winning Game 7) and Denver (properly executing "ideas and concepts" during Games 5 and 6, which carried into the Finals). PJ also dismissed the frequent accusations of inconsistent effort.
"It's not about playing hard. It's about playing without confusion. They want to play hard, but sometimes they don't know how to get it accomplished because they're confused If you have to think and play at times, that limits your physical output."
Throughout the season, I got the very distinct sense that Phil had a soft spot for this team. That he regarded them with a fair amount of affection. My instinct was correct, and that affection is easily understood.
There's the "long standing relationship" between PJ, Kobe and Derek Fisher, veteran players praised by Jackson as great captains and leaders, each in his own unique way. Phil considers Pau Gasol "as intelligent and as skilled a basketball player for a big man as I've ever coached." (And that includes personal fave Bill Cartwright and a certain Twitter addict.) From there, the supporting cast fell into line and forged a goal that centered around unity and purpose.
"From that standpoint, I was very pleased with these guys. From the moment we stood in that locker room on (Media) Day... their desire was to win this championship, regardless of how we get it accomplished and how much we have to sacrifice to do it. And that's the best thing a coach can hear."
Previous Exit Interviews:
- Trevor Ariza
- Pau Gasol
- Jordan Farmar
- Derek Fisher
- Luke Walton
- Adam Morrison
- Shannon Brown
- DJ Mbenga
- Josh Powell
- Lamar Odom
- Sasha Vujacic
- Mitch Kupchak