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Lakers Report Card: Phil Jackson

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In the 15th edition of the Lakers Report Card, we focus on Coach Phil Jackson.

Grade: B-

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.

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Jackson admitted to the gap between himself and his young players.

"They've treated me like a lame-duck administrator," Jackson said in a half-joking manner entering the 2011 postseason. "By not using what Ron [Artest] terms 'mind control,' not letting me control their minds when they've gone through some errant journeys on the floor or irrational behavior I'm not appreciative of."

Jackson didn't go into detail at the time about what exactly irked him, but it could have been many things, such as Pau Gasol falling to fatigue while picking up heavy minutes for Andrew Bynum despite taking the whole summer off, Kobe Bryant's penchant for breaking out of the triangle, Ron Artest struggling with the offense, the backcourt's poor three-point shooting and the bench's inconsistency. But Jackson handled all of that with a mixed bag.

Jackson at first needled Gasol because he had responded to that in seasons past and refused to sit him out in hopes that that would build mental toughness. But Gasol eventually tuned him out and lost confidence, making Jackson's berating of Gasol during Game 3 of the Lakers-Mavericks series seem both desperate and uncomfortable. Jackson had pushed just about every button for Gasol -- zinging him, providing positive reinforcement and criticizing officials on his behalf. When Jackson thumbed at him, it was a fitting image of Gasol's playoff collapse. 

Jackson's needling of Artest backfired, but his confrontation with Jackson in the middle of the season actually helped spark a turnaround. Some can argue that it hurt Artest's confidence level even more, but I think it helped: Artest eventually felt frustrated enough to call Jackson out in practice. In turn, Jackson showed a willingness to bite his tongue because he saw Artest actually cared. As inconsistent as Artest has been this season, he showed a remarkable turnaround in the All-Star break. 

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He was lenient with Bryant when it came to Bryant's health, allowing him to sit out practices, dictate his playing status and even trusting him when he refused to have an MRI or X-rays done on his injured left ankle in the postseason. He did pick his arguments, pointing out that the medical procedure would help and taking Bryant to task when he repeatedly took a large number of shots at the expense of a fluid offense. It was a somewhat precarious balancing act -- deferring to Bryant while subtly reminding him he was not above criticism.

And despite Fisher and the bench's inconsistency, he rarely called them out for their performances. Jackson's deference to Fisher had paid off in previous playoffs. With everyone lacking confidence on the bench, Jackson allowed them to play through their mistakes. There were surely tactical strategies I didn't agree with, such as Jackson downplaying the Lakers' Christmas Day game against Miami, his answer that he wasn't worried following a double-digit loss to Boston because the playoffs hadn't started and his tendency to play starters heavy minutes in blowout games. But there were also some small victories.

Jackson was instrumental in persuading Andrew Bynum to play an integral part in the Lakers' defensive scheme, which largely led to the team's 17-1 start following the All-Star break. Lakers forward Lamar Odom also admitted that Jackson's frequent criticism in past seasons had helped push him until, ultimately, he won the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award, honoring the most consistent stretch of his 12-year career, a season during which Jackson rarely needled him and a time in which  Jackson put trust in Odom's ability to balance basketball with his reality-television show.

So, what do we make of all this? 

Jackson's approach mostly backfired this season, so he deserves some criticism for not adapting more quickly and giving his players a greater sense of accountability and urgency. Just as he earned praise for his past teams showing great preparation and sharpness once the postseason hit, Jackson should earn equal scrutiny for this year's team looking not even remotely ready for the 2011 playoffs. But it should come with the same measured perspective with which I viewed his practice routine.

Jackson largely avoided physically intense practices and had his starters sit out most of them following games, knowing that a fatigued team that went through three consecutive NBA Finals needed to conserve as much energy and health as possible entering the postseason. There were times he felt it necessary to ratchet up the intensity, such as when the Lakers fell too far in the standings or the poor chemistry proved too egregious to watch. But tightening the reins likely would have resulted in more severe consequences, with further injury to key players. 

If this team couldn't bring its best effort for a coach who won 11 championships and had handled every scenario imaginable, they likely would've fared worse with a coach who had less clout, experience and composure. Surely, Jackson's smile and comments following their final game showed a sense of relief and a feeling of finality.  But don't equate a grin with indifference to the Lakers' sweep.

Knowing his immediate reaction would be broadcast a long time after, Jackson likely maintained his smile to show he's comfortable with the legacy he had already set, even if the finale was something of an embarrassment. He stayed in the moment even when it was difficult, something Jackson had trouble preaching and the Lakers had trouble executing all season.

-- Mark Medina

E-mail the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com

Top photo: Coach Phil Jackson leaves the court after the Lakers' Game 4 loss in Dallas. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

Middle photo: Lakers Coach Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant often talked about how their relationship improved after Jackson returned to coach the Lakers in 2005. Credit: Wally Skalij, Los Angeles Times

Bottom photo: Phil Jackson had the Midas touch when it came to dealing with superstars like Kobe Bryant, enigmatic figures like Lamar Odom and veterans like Derek Fisher during his coaching tenure with the Lakers. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

 
Comments () | Archives (25)

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way to go MM another good read...

I think you pretty much summed up what most people tought of Phils last year, he didnt coach, and nobody would listen to him when he did coach, he got out-coached when we played good teams, and he kept players in when he knew they would be a flop, so he definatly started to lack his great coaching ability. I mean you can tell that Phil was tired already, he wanted to leave, he didnt want to be doing this coaching gig for any longer. So to me it felt like his last year was kind of lazy and unprepared, I get the feeling that Jackson always felt like, since he has many veterans on the team, he dosnt have to coach to the max or even let the Vets coach the new guys. So he lacked energy and composure, he really wanted this year to be over with, you could tell in his eyes. The bottom line is, Phil saw his end coming, so he gave up because he knew it was inevitable!

My whole point is that he lost his effectiveness but it's more an indictment on the players. I think he showed a willingness to pick his battles, but he wanted to show respect by not getting too hard on them

When PJ started showing up in the press conferences, after the All-Star break, wearing those hideous cowboy plaid shirts, that was a sign that half of his mind was already in his ranch in Montana.

Thankfully, he wore that splendid bespoke suit during his last game. Really well-made suit, the fabric draped very nicely and those functional buttonholes on the sleeves was a nice touch. So it could be said that at least he went out in style.

@ MM - yeah thats basically what you wrote in the thread. With his Philosophy of " they" when we loose and " we " when we win. All im saying is he didnt seem to care about this season as much, maybe its because he was half way to Montana by mid season. It felt like he could teach no more to the new commers since he spent all his time teaching and preaching to his Vets, and thats probably how the downfall happend!

@Snake92 - ahaha yea I kind of agree about the style of clothing, but going out in style would be not getting swept by the freaking Mavs lol 4 games? really? 2 in your home floor? talking about style ahaha he went out with anything but style, but I get what you mean!

A nice read, for sure, but I think the grade is too generous. None other than Jerry Buss characterized this Laker team as potentially the best he's ever had at the beginning of the season. For a team with that much talent and that much potential to (barely) finish as the 2nd seed in the conference and to be swept out of the 2nd round (by an older team) is the very definition of underachievement.

Overall, I think this was one of Phil's worst seasons as a coach, and for that I don't know how he can be given anything more than a low C.

Testing

LakerTom,

re: your comment on the draft. Sorry. Missed "that" in your sentence.
Which specified that draft 6 years ago.

per Tim-4-show ... from *that* draft

Chris Paul
Deron Williams
Danny Granger
David Lee
Kleiza
Jarrett Jack

all of these people could theoretically be drafted earlier also. How many teams would select Socks over CP3? Some of them for sure, but probably not all of them.


So ... No. I'm not drafting Bynum before CP3 or D-Williams or D. Granger.
To be honest, I'm not sure that I'm drafting him before David Lee. Why?
Because I think that if I give David Lee 3 years of training under KAJ I'm
going to get something better than what Bynum has given.

re: And if the Lakers would hesitate to trade Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard, there is no way in the world that they would trade him for Blake Griffin as good as he is. That is what would be foolish.

my response: The only reason why the Lakers would hesitate in trading
Bynum for Howard is because of the pride of Jim Buss. PERIOD. Any
owner/GM who's interested in winning will take Blake over Bynum. PERIOD.

reasons why:

1. Athleticism. Do I *really* need to talk about this?
2. Versatility. Have you seen Blake dribble/pass?
3. Fans/butts in the seat. Are you *NOT* paying attention?
Blake is a joy to behold!
4. Team chemistry. Did you *NOT* catch what was going on with the
Clippers this year? I'm not talking about the W/L's. I'm talking about
how they played.

http://articles.latimes.com/2010/nov/30/sports/la-sp-clippers-fyi-20101130

I think Blake has better chemistry with his players than Bynum does with
the Lakers.

5. Health. Bynum has had 3 major knee surgeries to Blake's 1. Were it not
for Bynum's brace, he'd have had a 4th this year.


btw, I'm betting that Blake will make all star before Bynum does. Oh, wait.
How about Blake makes all nba defense before Bynum does?

MEMO TO MARK MEDINA:


It's ok now to tell the truth about Phil Jackson...............you no longer have to get an interview


With that memo out of the way ..................how in the world does Phil Jackson get a B-?

Phil Jackson was horrible this season as he has been in past seasons............difference being this year Kobe wasn't able to cover up all his coaching flaws................Phil Jackson was a confused man this season as he had no answers............He began to resort to scapegoating as he has so brilliantly done in the past with his penchant for gooblygok at the post conference.

Phil Jackson went out as he deserved to go out...........starting the season butting into Miami's business instead of focusing on Laker's business...........Speculating on what would happen to Spoelstra instead of seeing his own fate. Miami is now poised to go to the Finals under Spoelstra while the Lakers are poised to step as far away from Phil Jackson and his minions as possible.

Goodbye and good riddance Phil.............the jig is up! Bloggers this is hopefully my last comment on Phil Jackson as the increased energy and play next year especially on the defensive end under Mike Brown will bear witness to just how terrible of a coach Phil was this season.

Phil's ego finally caught up to him and revealed him as the Wizard of OZ.........once you could navigate your way through the smoke and mirrors of Phil's rhetoric all you would find was a scapegoating fraud.

I will leave you with this brilliant quote from June Jackson........Phil's former wife of 23 years.............she sum's up Phil so well

"My answer to why he's so frequently misunderstood is that he's unclear … it's even unclear to him," she said. "He learned early on to dodge, because people don't want to be pinned down publicly in their statements. So you just become kind of a master of obscurity, which people misinterpret as aloofness. What appears to be his standoffishness is just obscurity and opaqueness. And then people say, 'Oh my God, it's brilliance.' "

Grade F

Phil Jackson - Jordan & Kobe = Kurt Rambis

Phil has always allowed his veteran teams a lot of leeway. He has always given his best player a lot of freedom, whether it was MJ, Shaq or Kobe. He's always put up with a lot in the regular season to avoid burnout, and focused hard on the playoffs.


Phil did a lot of things the same way as always this year. It just didn't work. I think this group tuned him out they way that teams do over time. Some of these guys just didn't have much left in the tank (Fisher, Walton, Ratliff, Smith). But some guys under-performed. Two key players (Kobe, Drew) were coming off knee surgeries and he had to work around their health issues. They were a little old and slow, and the Bs never consistently provided a spark off the bench.


Because of some combination of the above, and complacency and selfishness and egos, this team just never seemed to gel properly, In the end the coach owns that. But still, Phil made teams gel better than anybody for a couple of decades. It's hard to believe he just stopped knowing how.


MM I do have one question for you...

when you do the " caught in the Web " threads, do you go in every single laker or sport site to find out what they are saying about LA or current issue with LA? i mean thats amazing that you dedicate so much time, but at the same time you post threads like hot cackes lol pretty amazing

pfunk - I'm not completely done yet. I hope I get the first exclusive interview with him for when his book comes out. Hold tight for a bit.

Testing. Trying to post after signing in

pfunk - yeah...Phil Jackson sure as hell was a regular visitor of this blog.MM had to be scared of telling the truth about him.I wonder why he didn't post. Scared of you ..perhaps ? :)

The way I see it since this was PJ's last stand, he kind of let KOBE and DFISH do all the coaching, he kind of laid back and wanted to see how things will turn out. He really didn't care about this team as much as the previous years, you could tell by looking at his face.

Remember when we first got our new players the beggining of this season? they asked PJ if this team is the best team he has coached, he said " NO " They said is this the team that will go 72-10 he said " NO " They asked him if this is the deepest team he ever had, guess what? he said NOOOO!! He knew something would not work, so he decided to enjoy the last ride, I mean who wouldnt, getting paid BiG $$ to sit on the chair.

Phil knew the end was coming so he stoped doing his job!

Tech N9ne - Yeah pretty much. It takes about an hour or so to do. There's five main sites that cover the Lakers on a daily basis (L.A. Times, Daily News, O.C. Register, Riverside Press Enterprise, ESPN LA). Then I go to the national sites just in case (ESPN, SI, Fox, Yahoo, Pro Basketball Talk, Ball Don't Lie). And also the blogs (Lakers.com, Silver Screen and Roll, Forum Blue and Gold). After that, I'll search Lakers through Google News and see if there's anything else I missed. Usually that covers all basis.

P.S.

Almost forgot.............A big ups to Jim Buss as he despite unwarranted criticism cut the Lakers away from the Phil Jackson tree..........cutting the branch, tree and the root............and also giving an opportunity to the 2nd (Magic was the 1st .....but that was a joke) Black coach in the 64 year history of the Laker franchise.

Way to go Jimmy!!

Posted by: Mark Medina | May 26, 2011 at 11:57 AM

lol you know whats funny? I bet most of the regualr bloggers do the same ahaha including me, my frist place destination is of course LA TIMES LAKERS BLOG, then I prance around NBA, YAHOO, GOOGLE ext ext... but thats pretty crazy to read everything about LAL stuff then summarise them and post them, pretty smart.

Altought in Yahoo Sprots NBA, the Ball dont lie thread by Kelly Dwyer or whatever, he post some very Anti-Laker pro Miami and LBJ stuff which I dont like at all, sometimes he has interestin titles to his posts but when you get done reading them, you want to throw up. I wonder if he ever checks on this site to get a few pointers on how to freaking write an post/thread.

MM I know recently everyones been asking about posting some news on our teams off season and what are they doing, its getting a little boring this off season, so if you can get some info on all the players and what they have been doing this off season so far would be nice, but I bet non of them are around lol everyones probably on vacation somewhere!

@pfunk - (Magic was the 1st .....but that was a joke) Black coach in the 64 year history of the Laker franchise.


LMAO very funny because its true, I really didnt pay attention to that but it makes sense ahaha

way to go MM another good read...

I think you pretty much summed up what most people tought of Phils last year, he didnt coach, and nobody would listen to him when he did coach, he got out-coached when we played good teams, and he kept players in when he knew they would be a flop, so he definatly started to lack his great coaching ability. I mean you can tell that Phil was tired already, he wanted to leave, he didnt want to be doing this coaching gig for any longer. So to me it felt like his last year was kind of lazy and unprepared, I get the feeling that Jackson always felt like, since he has many veterans on the team, he dosnt have to coach to the max or even let the Vets coach the new guys. So he lacked energy and composure, he really wanted this year to be over with, you could tell in his eyes. The bottom line is, Phil saw his end coming, so he gave up because he knew it was inevitable!

Posted by: Tech N9ne | May 26, 2011

Great post,but are you also agreeing with MM's grade??Based on what you wrote,and obviously a second round sweep Phil should get at least D.(sorry pfunk,lol) Phil and the triangle has brought LA some championships,when it worked it worked.On the other hand when it didn't the laker teams were beaten badly,even back to the shaq days.........

P.S.

Almost forgot.............A big ups to Jim Buss as he despite unwarranted criticism cut the Lakers away from the Phil Jackson tree..........cutting the branch, tree and the root............and also giving an opportunity to the 2nd (Magic was the 1st .....but that was a joke) Black coach in the 64 year history of the Laker franchise.

Way to go Jimmy!!

Posted by: pfunk36 | May 26, 2011 at 11:58 AM

Great posts also,I knew you would flame phil,but he deserves it though.I can't get that senile/sinister smile he did after the sweep out of my head. Btw were is that poster that said LA would never hire a black coach?Or were those posts a way to call the busses bluff,and help brown's chances?Do they read the blog??? LOL....


@HOBBITMAGE ... “my response: The only reason why the Lakers would hesitate in trading
Bynum for Howard is because of the pride of Jim Buss. PERIOD.” With due respect, that is simply just your personal opinion and not correct. You are ignoring the fact that Dwight will cost considerably in salary and luxury taxes than Drew or that Dwight might not be as good a fit as Drew because he is used to being the #1 option for the team? Or what about the fact that it will probably require some team taking back Arenas or Turkoglu and their bad contracts to get Dwight? The real world is not as simple as you would like it to be. Like Mitch Kupchak clearly stated, if Drew stays healthy and continues to focus on defense and rebounding like he has, we will not trade him
...
“Any owner/GM who's interested in winning will take Blake over Bynum. PERIOD.” Again, you are trying to turn your opinion into fact. I would bet most teams out there would prefer to have Andrew Bynum rather than Blake Griffin. If the Lakers would hesitate to trade Drew for Dwight, what in the world makes you think they would be willing to trade for Blake, who doesn’t play defense, does not yet have a trustworthy outside shot, and has not shown that his play can translate into wins. Blake is a great prospect but still a very unfinished and unproven power forward. Drew is clearly the second best center in the league and a dominant defensive force. No way I take Blake over Drew.
..................................
TOM

Posted by: Cyril SASS0 111 | May 26, 2011 at 12:19 PM

yeah I kind of would agree with MM on the grade for Phil and the reason why is because PJ had a veteran team with most of its players being familiar with what PJ wants, but they couldnt hold their end of the bargain, every player on that team knew its roles, except the rooks and new players, but its not his fault that they didnt do the things he tought and preached, he really couldnt teach to the new guys from A all the way to Z he just summerised everything and expected the players to catch on.

Dont get me wrong, Im not saying he did the right thing or was the #1 coach and players let him down, what Im saying is that he was really tired with everything, he had a system and he wanted it executed properly, and that comes from the players not the coach, he can say and do what he wants but if the players dont do what he says, or play their best game, its not going to go anywhere!

I would give Phil C+/B-. So I do agree with MM in a sense, that this really and completley PJ's fault that they got swept, we have and had a lot of good players that didnt seem to be playing championship caliber ball, how can that be PJ's fault, YES at times he got out coached by other coaches, but think about it, his been in the game for so long, the other coaches are hungrier than PJ was he got 11 rings, you think he was really dying to get his 12th? not really he just wanted to get paid and retire, he didnt care about the championship or the team, he seemed like an old man who wanted to retire... so the bottom line is B- or C+ is still good because he did all he could, but the team let him down, it really wasnt his fault that we couldnt win one game against the Mavs, it was the players. He got out coached by Rick Carlisle but remember towards the end, Phil was already pissed, and he was hitting Pau Gasol and AB and even screming at LO, because he saw that the players werent doing what he wanted them to do... so thats my 2 cents regarding the grade, maybe MM could have put a C+ but I wouldnt give PJ and F, he did give us a second place in the regular season but couldnt go all the way...

You'll be missed Phil...
No matter how much people will say negative stuff about this year, and how much you didnt coach, you still gave us a lot of rings and a lot of memories, hope you come back after retirenment for one more ride!!

B+.

It's not Phil's fault that Gasol played like a spineless wimp in the playoffs.

What do we play for? RINGS!!!

Lakers Today... Lakers Tomorrow... Lakers Forever.

GO LAKERS!!!

Tech N9ne - I disagree that Phil "didn't care" about this season. If he didn't care, he frankly wouldn't have come back. I think it's necessary to remember that Phil kept a similar approach during the last 2 runs, but there were a few things that were different. Other teams got better and it was harder to really get the players to focus. There were times this year that Phil put his feet down, but he and the team were really worried about running out of gas and getting hurt. That made them feel like they were protecting a championship instead of getting it. As much talent as the Lakers had, they were all beat up and worn down. That's not an excuse, but that's why Phil, Kobe and Fish constantly bit their tongue because they didn't want to lose the rest of the team's fragile psyche.

Tom Daniels - I think you made a great comment. Phil deserves some criticism for not always having the correct feel on the team's pulse and he acknowledged as such, saying it was harder and harder for him to relate to the younger players. But of all the factors that plagued this team, Phil isn't at the top. It would be fatigue/complacency; Pau's disappearing act; the team's horrible outside shooting; bad bench;


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