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Should the Lakers stick with the triangle offense?

May 16, 2011 | 11:15 am

61486644Through all the team meditations, sage-burning exercises and enjoying the high caliber of talent on his teams, none of these qualities truly defined Phil Jackson's coaching career.

He may have felt the need to be a little modest when he pointed out last week in his exit interview that his 11 championship rings mostly predicated on the talent he had, coaching Hall of Famers Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen with the Chicago Bulls and future Hall of Famers in Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal with the Lakers. But that commentary ignores a few important things. Jordan, Pippen and Bryant didn't win any titles without Jackson coaching them, and Shaq won three of four came titles under him. Although there were certainly many tumultuous moments, Jackson mostly found a balance between giving his players enough space to make them feel respected and sticking to his beliefs that no player is above the team and immune from criticism. And more importantly, Jackson managed to sell the tenets of the triangle offense to superstar players even though it sometimes sacrificed their individual glory.

"You have to be determined," Jackson said as the key to selling that offense. "Skills are really the important aspect of this game and the players come with those skills. A lot of times we did a practice in which a high school coach would come in and thought we were a step below what they do in high school because we were emphasizing basic fundamentals. But it really is about that and the determination you have with your players that they’re going to do those things that make them work."

Jackson conceded that at varying points of their careers, Jordan, O'Neal and Bryant all had issues with running the triangle. The Lakers' underachieving 2010-2011 season illustrated Jackson's struggle in getting his players to run the offense, remarking that between four or five unspecified players actually knew how to run the system.  And as General Manager Mitch Kupchak summed up, "There are many times this year that we ran the triangle and I couldn’t recognize it."

So the next pressing question is will the Lakers continue to run it? That surely will be answered depending on who winds up becoming head coach, but below the jump I explain why they should stay with that system.


Why the Lakers should keep it:

The Lakers have all the same personnel to make it work. Whether they eventually decide to go with Lakers assistant Brian Shaw or even pick Rick Adelman, it's still possible for L.A. to run that system, or at least a variation of it. That's because, according to's Marc Stein, the Lakers see plenty of similarities between Adelman's "corner" offense and Jackson's triangle. Should Shaw get hired, he would presumably continue Jackson's coaching system and minimize any transition period because of both his familiarity with the players and their familiarity with the system.

Besides, the success that Tex Winter and Jackson have had running that system speaks for itself. Some may counter that the Lakers' inconsistent offense this season or even Jim Cleamons' and Kurt Rambis' struggles with implementing that philosophy in separate coaching stints with Dallas and Minnesota show that the triangle isn't all that it's cracked up to be. But as Jackson pointed out, "There’s an old adage that John Wooden said that it’s not the best system that always wins, but it’s the team that executes their system the best that wins." Had the Lakers simply ran the offense properly last season, they would've reaped the full benefits that system offers with the constant off-ball movement and reaction to situations exposing opponents' defensive weaknesses.

--Mark Medina

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Top photo: Phil Jackson, left, oftens credits former assistant Tex Winter, who perfected the triangle offense that the Bulls and Lakers used in winning 11 championships. Credit: Phil Velasquez / Chicago Sun-Times / Jan. 28, 1996

Bottom photo: Phil Jackson disagrees with a referee's call as Steve Blake looks on at Staples Center. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times