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Analyzing the psychology behind Phil Jackson's comments about Miami


The words struck the Miami Heat as trash talking. The words struck the NBA's coaching circle as disrespectful. And the words struck the media as one of the Zen Master's old tricks.

With Miami off to a far from desirable 8-6 start, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said out loud on "The Waddle and Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000 in Chicago on Tuesday what the general public has been speculating since the season started. That involves the ongoing debate on the job security of Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra.

"The scenario that sits kind of behind the scene, is that eventually these guys that were recruited -- [Chris] Bosh and [LeBron] James -- by [team President] Pat Riley and Micky Arison, the owner, are going to come in and say, 'We feel you [Riley] can do a better job coaching the team,' " Jackson said of Miami, which is now 8-7. " 'We came here on the hopes that this would work,' and whatever, I don't know. That's kind of my take on it, is that eventually if things don't straighten out here soon, it could be the Van Gundy thing all over again."

The Van Gundy reference, of course, alludes to current Orlando Coach Stan Van Gundy, who stepped down as head coach during the 2005-06 Miami season for varied reasons depending on who you ask. Van Gundy's version: he resigned because he wanted to spend more time with his family. Everyone else's version: Riley forced him out 21 games into the season so he could eventually lead the Heat to the 2005-06 championship.

Jackson took his comments further before the Lakers' 98-91 victory Tuesday over Chicago.

"I don't think it'll happen like we're talking about it tomorrow or anything like that," Jackson said. "But I think eventually if things don't turn around, eventually the weight is going to fall there where we were promised this success and we're hoping for it. It'll be a real drive for the players to have some kind of change. It'll be easier to change coaches than to change teams after they made all of those player adjustments. There's a chance, but I would say it would take a lot more losses than the ones we've seen."

The reaction regarding Jackson has already been quite spirited. Van Gundy called the comments "inappropriate" and "ignorant." Spoelstra simply tried laughing it off. And Heat guard Dwyane Wade raised questions on Jacksion violating the unwritten rule amongst coaches that publicly talking about others' job security is a strict no-no.

This sentiment will fall on deaf ears in this corner of the blogosphere, but I understand why there's anger over Jackson's comments. It's the equivalent of someone else outside of the Lakers giving their assessment regarding Jackson's coaching uncertainty last season. And generally speaking, it's not the classy thing to do.

But as far as the psychology behind it? I agree with ESPN Los Angeles' Brian Kamenetzky that to strictly paint this as one of Jackson's mind games is a tad too simplistic. Even if Jackson's comments drew the ire of Van Gundy and Wade, his comments in full are about as fair and nuanced as you can get.


He stressed that Miami isn't going through anything surprising, but perhaps only so because of the heightened expectations surrounding that team ("They really haven't had the opportunity to get that all together.") He blamed the media for overhyping the Heat's conflicts and overanalyzing each performance ("There's a little bit of competition or maybe bantering or stuff that the media can focus on and pick apart and the team starts to look at itself in the mirror.") And he concluded that Spoelstra shouldn't ultimately be the first one held responsible for any shortcomings ("The responsibility ends up coming back to the players and performing").

For as experienced and successful as Jackson is as a head coach, I don't buy that he was just making an off-the-cuff remark. He's very well aware what the media will ask him at some point during a season and have most times formulated the main message he wants to convey. There's no doubt Jackson's fully aware how sharing his views would get this type of reaction and add another story line to the Lakers-Heat showdown. But Jackson's comments seem more directed toward his team than Miami itself, as there's really no reason he should feel threatened at this point in the season at what Miami could do.  Save the mind games for the Heat if the Lakers actually meet them in the NBA Finals.

Just like he contended a few weeks ago that the Heat have a better chance than the Lakers of winning at least 70 games, Jackson's speculation about Miami's coaching future was meant to motivate and remind the Lakers the keys to maintaining a championship team.

Naturally, Jackson's commentary on Miami's situation led to him answering questions about dealing with the tension between Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, winning his first championship with the Lakers in just his first season and about the recently decreased media spotlight on the Lakers. As professional and mature as the Lakers have shown en route to a 13-2 record, there's no question that Jackson wants to ensure that mind-set stays the same by reminding them it's actually a good thing if they start feeling bored. Sure beats battling the endless scrutiny and drama that involves the Heat.

Lately, the Lakers have embraced their business-like approach. They've prided themselves on blowing teams out so they can get enough rest. The newcomers feel forever hungry in wanting to fit in with the championship culture. And everyone from Kobe Bryant down to the bench senses satisfaction in mastering little nuances in their performances. But just like it's unfair  to label anything definitive about Miami just based off its start, it's also incomplete already to paint the Lakers as the team waltzing to a three-peat. More challenges will arise when the schedule becomes tougher, the grind becomes more magnified and the glow of a new NBA season rubs off.

Jackson's latest commentary on using his critique on Miami into launching a discussion about how he dealt with the Lakers' problems earlier this decade served as another reminder that keeping it simple and drama-free isn't a bad thing. Even in Lakerland.

--Mark Medina

E-mail the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Photo: Lakers Coach Phil Jackson recently suggested the Miami Heat may fire Coach Erik Spoelstra. Credits: Stephen Dunn / Getty Images, Rick Osentoski / US Presswire

Comments () | Archives (41)

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PJ is just telling the truth based on the realities, however some people have a hard time to accept the truth. They either put sugar or vinegar into it before confronting the realities. What else can be said in the convergence of three high profile stars if Pat Riley is not the ultimate Coach. In Chess, PJ took the centerpiece where a pawn threaten to attack and see how they react. The Heat owner would either hate PJ for saying the plans that are hatching up while Erick S. gets a reprieve because a popular coach came to his rescue him in the most indirect Zen way. Riley would be an unhappy camper here, the cover was blown out in the open. He can't do the same act with his chosen successor, unless the owner demands it. Riles, PJ doesn't lie, change is forthcoming.

By the way, SHE LOVED IT!!!
What do we play for? RINGS!!!
Lakers Today... Lakers Tomorrow... Lakers Forever.

"another reminder that keeping it simple and drama-free isn't a bad thing. Even in Lakerland."
Actually, that is the thing about this year: Drama free.
It's been so long it feel unfamiliar to me, but it is awesome. It's just going to take a little time to get used to.
What do we play for? RINGS!!!
Lakers Today... Lakers Tomorrow... Lakers Forever.

Miami's struggling at 8-7. There's a lot of finger pointing going on. And here's what coach Spoles said at his press conference....

Posted by: LRob | November 24, 2010 at 09:37 PM

Im Thankful for being born into Lakerland, I'm Thankful for this blog and the many personalities that post on it, I'm Thankful I'm, once again, rooting for the BEST damn team in the NBA, from start to finish and waiting for Drew to return to the mix.. I'm Thankful for having a GOOD woman and GOOD friends around me and I'm Thankful for my health.. Get Well soon Rick F, HAPPY THANKSGIVING ALL !!!!

another non story elevated to national catastrophe level just to keep talking about stuff...

if you hear the actual clip, it really is no big deal. if the principals involved can't handle such mild, even lame comments, they really need a vacation.

Jackson's comment just ensures that Riley doesn't take over a team a little longer.

I'm not sure if Riley wants to coach this team. If Riley fails to bring the championship if/when he takes over, it could tarnish his legacy a little.

my impression is jackson is helping spoelstra.
after these comments it won't be easy for riley to take over, (like he did with stan van gundy), now that the heat has again a chance to a ring. now spoelstra almost sure has another chance.

Thou art awesome.
What do we play for? RINGS!!!
Lakers Today... Lakers Tomorrow... Lakers Forever.

We have something to be thankful that there is a blog for all Laker fans to congregate and share their views;

We have something to be thankful for our young brave soldiers who are at a harm's way even on Thanksgiving day;

We are thankful that even though there have been record of unemployment and foreclosures this year, we never had the depression that was experienced by our grandparents or great grandparents for others. We are looking forward to buy something on Black Friday door busters.

The most important of all is your health, take that into consideration before you go over eating and binge drinking tomorrow. You only live once but you can also die once.

We are all Pilgrims in this blog, make the most of our presence for we may never pass this way again.

Happy Thanksgiving to all & Goodnight

Phil Jackson is an accomplished comedian, among other things. What basketball fan doesn't love this entertainment on some level. MM, you covered it and I thought it was a very well written piece. Edwin, I want to acknowledge and compliment your excellent post on this topic at 9:52 PM.

The truth is that the Heat organization and its players brought all of this upon themselves, so they opened the door, so to speak. There's no "Three-peat Check" on ESPN, is there?

I heard Phil's interview and it all started with him responding to a question that was posed to him and Phil offering his thoughts on the topic. Yeah, he could have said that he's not privy to the situation, but he decided to have fun with it and hit SVG with a little shrapnel. Big deal. This was about LeBron, D-Wade, the Lap Dog, Micky Arison and Riles anyway, so perhaps SVG (who I happen to like a lot) shouldn't have taken it so personally. OK, so the truth hurts.

For a change, Phil merely expressed what everyone has been thinking since before the season even started anyway. Thanks for the entertainment, Coach Eleven Rings. D-Wade was right. You have earned the right to say whatever you want!

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

This was brilliant. Because we all know Riles is a better coach and can probably turn things around, by Phil saying this, either he will NOT make the coaching change so as to not make Phil look smart, thus keeping the weaker coach on the bench, or they make the change and play right into Phil's grand meet Riles in the finals and duel the two greatest coaches of all time.

Phil's just great at putting it out there and beginning debate. Its classic Sun Tzu stuff....

Edwin- well said.

Larry, Lew, Mamba, please get me on the bandwagon for young lucas post haste this terrible tragedy is so much worse because of how his family will feel about lakers games. what is a terrible tragedy i hope will not separate this family from the loving community that i know Lakers Fans are comprised off.

-To the suffering family- I realize that the words of those at staples are as ash to your grief, but I hope that the love, the empathy and the community of those of us who have long loved the Lakers from the inspirations they provide to human endeavor and our own personal troubles, troubles and losses which we would hardly suggest could equal your own in severity, but could perhaps equal yours in grief. I speak badly, but i feel quite clearly- we are here for you, us lakers fans, us human beings, we are you today. We mourn with you.

or something like that. I wish i could say something that would at least, if not help, they do virtue to the idea of trying to help.




Number of sources say that pat riley doesnt want to take over the heat. they said that his last championship run tired him out too much.

Seems simple enough.

Now the Heat stars have doubts, rebellion gets worse, Coach S loses control, Heat implodes.

Phil has just done a masterful job of using psychology to make a simple factual statement. It is logically expected in any sports organization that when things do not go right, changes are done and in this specific high profile case, it would be much much easier to axe the coach as the sacrificed lamb.

HOWEVER, by saying this, Phil has simply prolonged the unevitable as Pat Riley is now forced to wait longer and not make the change as it will only make Phil look like a smart guy. By doing this, Phil has created doubts for Spoelstra and the 3 superstars on the team. This will automatically result in more losses as the drop in confidences will translate into more losses. The superstars will start second guessing everything that the coach asks and then the bikkering will start as none of these guys have the guts to take the losses coming. This will continue until Pat gets tired of waiting and utlimately makes the change. By then, it will be already too late. Great job, Phil. You have done it again.

By the way, forget about SVG. He just wants to disagree with something. That is his nature. If Phil had said the opposite, he would still comment about it and disagree with it. That is SVG, what a loser!

When someone like Phil achieves the aura of a "zen master", even the most simple and innocuous statement I'd taken as a profound pronouncement. And I think that is exactly what has happened here. Phil was asked a direct question. He gave a direct answer. And now everyone is analyzing it like it was handed down on stone tablets to Moses.

But now it has taken on a life of its own. My guess is that it will have the following consequences:

1. Riley will not replace Spoelstra, or if he does, it will be too late to rescue their season. Check.

2. If the owner forces Riley to change coaches, Riley himself will not take over. Check.

3. The Christmas match with the Heat will be more like Death Match 2010, or a recreation of Kobe's commercial for Call of Duty, with the Lakers pulling away in the 4th quarter and driving the final nail in the Heat's coffin for the season. Checkmate.

PJ does not like a “Simulator Crew”

Riley should support coach, not replace him;_ylt=AjCLKE55kmOvZgxmCFElfBY5nYcB?slug=aw-rileyheat112510

i think phil just want riley to coach the miami heat to motivate him. so if they'll meet in the finals..the winner will be called the best coach..

Need a proofreader?

SVG is upset because he's been trying to spin it that he wanted to spend time with the family but everyone knows he got fired because of the poor start. Phil was just pointing out the obvious, if the Heat continue to struggle then Riley or someone else might step in, like 04-05. Whats the problem?

Spoelstra and Van Gundy are quite stupid, don't you think? All they have to do is respond with something like "who gives a damn what Jackson thinks?" then it's over. Instead they take the bait and fall for the head game Jackson cunningly invites them to play. How psychologically naive those 2 are.

It was probably inappropriate, and somewhat puzzling, that Phil would wade into Spoelstra's job status. But everything he said was true.

Here's what we can learn from the Heat so far:

1) Building a winner is harder than people think, a lot harder than drafting a good fantasy team. The players have to fit together. Wade and James are two guys who thrive on having the ball on the perimiter. Only one can have the ball at once, and neither is really at this stage a great off-ball player.

2) Chemistry usually takes time. The Heat may be the best team in the NBA by the end of the season, or next year. But so many guys are learning a new offense and a new defense and their role in it. They are learning their teammates' strengths, weakness, and tendencies. It all takes time.

3) The Heat had a tough early schedule than the Lakers - Boston twice, Orlando. As this team comes together, it will also hit an easier stretch of schedule. They may go on a run then.

4) Coaching and leadership are important. Under a Phil Jackson or a Greg Popovich Miami may have gelled faster. It's a lot more than x's and o's. It's about building a team cultuure and getting everyone going in the same direction. And a leader like Kobe or Duncan doesn't hurt either.

5) Role players matter. The "other guys" have to be complimentary to the stars, accept their roles, and be able to handle the big moments. For every Kareem, Magic, Kobe , Shaq or Pau you need a Coop, a Rambis, a Fish, an Horry, a Fox.

The Heat are 8-7, and come March that won't matter. Every team will go through a slump. The question is, can this team pull itself together and live up to the hype? At this point it's an open question. And Phil is right, that won't result in LeBron collecting unemployment. The pressure is on Spoelstra.

Interesting to see Minnestoa almost take out San Antoino. Love got 32/22 and Darko had 22/8. They threw away a game they should have won, but the T-Wolves strong showings against the Lakers were not flukes. Kurt is getting that team to play hard and compete.

I agree with many of the other posters. Phil wants it. He wants to win it all against Pat - the big showdown between the two best coaches in Laker history. Let's face it, he is motivating himself. It is also brilliant because if they do it he's like "I told you so!" and if they don't he's like "I will kill you now!" Pat is a control freak. In a way, it's Phil slapping his glove against Pat's cheek. Pat has been challenged. The Heat players want it (except Wade who has had to play under his iron rule). Miami wants it. Basketbal fans want it. I think it will go down as Phil says. PJ sees all... ;-)

I am a Lakorholic.

I love this line: Let's face it, he is motivating himself. It is also brilliant because if they do it he's like "I told you so!" and if they don't he's like "I will kill you now!"

SVG was upset at Phil because the obvious fact that he prefers to deal with Spoelstra as a coach of Miami than Riley who had much more coaching experiences. The Heats looked lost yesterday in the 4th quarter, Lebron is playing PG against a speedy Nelson. Wade was throwing one bricks after another and Bosh is just an averaged PF. Their bench is pitiful.

We, the fans of the Lakers, have to thank Pat and the Miami's owner for our early success this season. If the Heats didn't make their move to sign their three superstars, we might still have Farmar as our backup PG, ,Walton as our backup SF instead of Barnes who in my opinion, earned the respect from the coaching staff and teammates with his steady defense and offense. He's everywhere!! Unlike the past few years, our bench are much stronger and are doing a fantastic job of sustaining the lead or widen it.

Any words on the backup big men? Troy Murphy would be a great addition to our bench if Kupchak can pull off the deal (Expiring contract of Sasha and draft pick) as suggested by other Lakers' blog.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Phill Jackson was probably auditioning for the Miami coaching job himself or setting it up for his taking in the near future.

"Phill Jackson was probably auditioning for the Miami coaching job himself or setting it up for his taking in the near future." --page1

hahahaha. wouldn't that we soo funny if phil wins this year with the Lakers giving him 4 3pts and then moves to Miami and 3pts again with james and wade.

But not before kobe goes for quatro, for ring #7 and 2nd straight mvp (3rd over all), surpassing jordan and finally settling the question. Yes, Kobe Bryant, GOAT!!!

Hey Jon K.,

Everybody loves your work man but maybe you should just pick one slogan at the end of your comments.

What do we play for? RINGS!!!
Lakers Today... Lakers Tomorrow... Lakers Forever.

Pick one man, or maybe alternate weekly.

what drama free?

go interview Ron…..

you'll get all drama in the world. I don't think you need any more.

media needs to write something….

Sorry, man. I'm sticking to what works.
What do we play for? RINGS!!!!
Lakers Today... Lakers Tomorrow... Lakers Forever.

Phil Jackson has already surpass and defeated his longtime laker rival coach Pat Riley,so there is no need for him to prove that he is the greater of the 2.Many of today's laker fans were too young to remember the bad beaten handed down to the great showtime lakers of magic,kareem,worthy and Cooper by the Bull's team under the Zen Master in 1991.I saw it,it was a real heart ache,my Showtime Lakers won the first game in that NBA finals then that mighty BULLS under a certain tandem of JORDAN/PIPPEN crushed them in the next games,my LAKERS were never able to pull back.

Are there 2 more annoying people than the VG bros? Dipstick Jeffy with "the Heat will break the 72 mark" take before the season started and his Fat slob bro Stan that is so negative he always mentally defeats his team by seasons end. They should just STFU. I love PJ's baiting them into exposing their lameness. The truth always hurts, eh Stanley?

Uh, _____ninja_____Kareem retired in 1989 and Michael Cooper retired in 1990. Neither of them played against the Bulls in the 1991 Finals. This is the best Lakers' blog on the planet. Come right...we accept no substitutes.

Happy Thanksgiving to all. Please remember Little Lucas Tang and his family today as we give thanks.

No one understands the Zen Master. Zen Master practically put an end to Riley taking over the bench now. Zen Master knows that if Riley takes over, heat will be totally unstoppable. Great work Zen Master.

My read on Phil's comment is this.

He is in his last wars... he has gone past through other coaches and has defeated them, he is now looking at a better battle against a better opponent just like a warrior would do. challenging for the best of them all.

What good will it be to him if he meets SVG again, he has already exposed SVG's weak mind. Same with Doc Rivers. He has already defeated him in grind out, exhausting 7 games finals. Though Phil still sees him as a worthy opponent, the reason he decided to come back after Doc said he will have another run at it. But the one remaining warrior he needs to face is Riles.

These people are not just coaches, they are like warriors of old, only in a different arena, and different instruments. What better way to have a swan song than to face the one person that has been compared to him as the greatest of his generation.

So, I say. Riley, put on those game face of yours, buckle up and give us the battle we fans deserve.

Let's get it on!

Let's go Lakers! Go Kobe!

My thoughts: Phil is planting a seed - for the Miami Heat! I believe he is attempting to place reverse pressure on Pat Riley NOT to take over the team.

Spoelstra can NOT lead this team to a chip, especially this year. It is already obvious he does not have the respect of LeBrat - uh, LeBron. Bosh with the , '...we just want to chill..." garbage is most likely on the disrespect roster, too. If he stays at the helm it is one less competitior the Lakers have to worry about.

However, should Pat step in it is almost a certainty he would figure it out swiftly. Even with the squad they have should they focus on strengths instead of letting the weaknesses rule their games they would be formidable. He could bring that out. And EVERYONE OF THEM will respect Pat (D Wade would be upset but would follow the program).

By singling out Pat in such a way Phil is pulling his card. Spo' is Riley's hand-picked choice. He can't bail on him easily. With added pressures that re-connect Riley to his conniving replacement of Van Gundy it would seemingly be even more difficult to unseat Spo'.

The one thing I know: Spo' will NOT lead this squad to the Finals. If Phil can have any influence on keeping Riley away he will have done the league a favor. Those clowns don't deserve to win, 8-7 says that. Its early but LeBron and Wade have the same game, hard to form chemistry and make each other better. Honestly, I see 'Bron leaving. Not this year but he won't be there all six of his contract.

Go Lakers!

Fair enough Jon k., Fair enough.....



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