Wednesday, June 15, 2005

P.J. and the Bull

If you've been reading his blog, Forum Blue and Gold, you'll know that Kurt is enjoying the return of coach Phil Jackson to his Lakers. But with that return has come the inevitable questions on Phil's true ability as a coach. I guess winning 9 championships isn't enough, so to further quell the critics Kurt goes back to the '93-'94 season, when Jackson coached up a Michael-less Bulls team to 55 wins and one bogus foul call away (curse you Hugh Hollins!) from the Eastern Conference Finals.

Read it and remember an interesting year in Bulls history. I know I was but a youngin back then, which is probably why my thoughts go to Scottie Pippen when regarding that season instead of Phil. But no doubt it proved at least he could have success with only one superstar instead of his customary two. Maybe the same will happen with Kobe:

The Eastern Conference of those Bulls was not as deep as the West the Lakers will have to face next year, and 55 wins is a mighty long way up. But better defense and some roster moves to bring in rebounders and defenders will move the Lakers back toward the league’s elite. It may take a few years, but a direction to build a team in the mold of the early 90s Bulls (with Kobe in the Jordan role) is what I think we’ll see.

I never really had much of an opinion on Jackson outside the norm: that he was a good coach with some great talent. Nevermind the fact that there are great teams every year that don't win the title (think Phil could've sent some of those Kings teams to a finals or two?), his stature in my mind grew even more after reading 'The Jordan Rules':

as described in the afterward section of the book, Phil Jackson would serve as the 'hero' in this story. His ability to come from basketball obscurity (an underrated Krause move) to accomplish with his team what former coach Doug Collins couldn't gave him this 'hero' title. Jordan's relationship with Jackson was always tense yet respectful, as Jackson tried to get Jordan to share the ball more in the team's now-famous triangle offense. This attempt to curtail Jordan within the offense did not always work, but, as Bulls fans can remember, came through in the title-clinching game when Jordan repeatedly found an open John Paxson who drove many a nail in the Lakers' coffin.

Today, Sam Smith (author of The Jordan Rules) went more in-depth to the roots of Phil Jackson:

This could be something of a rebirth for Jackson. Before those nine championships with the Bulls and Lakers and his record number of playoff victories, Jackson was a coach, not a Zenmaster. He loved the CBA, loved coaching in Puerto Rico. He long has savored that 1993-94 Bulls season when Jordan first left and the Bulls won 55 games. Yes, he would like that 10th title, but he's not really a philosopher and professor.

My Man Sam(tm) hits it right on the head here, cutting through Phil's extraordinary skill in handling egos to reveal the fact that the guy was first a coach through-and-through. He wasn't a former all-star that got his job by reputation (like Doc Rivers or Mo Cheeks), he worked and earned his place in the league.

I think people are already caught up in that notion of a 10th championship. I'm sure the slower-witted of that group thinks that if it doesn't come in this final coaching term he'll be outted as a fraud. But I am optimistic that while a championship may not come (the Spurs will have a lot to say about that, you know), Phil will have his Lakers competitive again, and that's a confidence that few coaches around the league can inspire.