In the 15th edition of the Lakers Report Card, we focus on Coach Phil Jackson.
While the Lakers sulked immediately following their 122-86 Game 4 eliminating loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference semifinals, Phil Jackson smiled. While the Lakers walked off the floor with their heads hung low, Jackson held his head high. And while the Lakers lamented their season ending a month too short, Jackson actually expressed relief that it was over.
"It feels really good to be ending the season, to be honest with you," Jackson said. "I came back this year with trepidation."
It's not exactly the answer fans would expect or like to hear, but there's no escaping the fact that Jackson was reluctant to return. He had thought about retiring after collecting his 11th championship, with the 2010 NBA Finals, mostly due to health concerns. All the travel and stress wore on him. Chronic pain in his knees and hip was burdensome. Still, he struggled with walking away from the game, having made attempts to do so in both 1998 and 2004. But he returned after much cajoling -- from longtime girlfriend Jeanie Buss, who is Lakers executive vice president; co-captains Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher; Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak; and owner Jerry Buss -- even though Jackson got a $2-million paycut, from $12 million to $10 million.
It would be easy to say Jackson's heart was never in this season and that he didn't fully prepare the Lakers for the rigors that a three-peat would demand. And though Jackson has 11 championship rings in 19 seasons, he's not immune from criticism. Jackson, like Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher, laid out a blueprint for maintaining a big-picture perspective, but oftentimes that approach meant that bad habits continued, accompanied by a lack of focus. Still, although Jackson could've adjusted better, this is more a case of his players not heeding the wisdom of an 11-time NBA champion than Jackson suddenly becoming ineffective.