Eleven championships in nineteen seasons. We'll all remember that Jordan had his Era, or that Kobe had his, but realistically, it was the Phil Jackson Era. It was under Big Chief Triangle's guidance that talented teams became championship teams. All-Time great teams. Dynasties. Phil's teams didn't just win, they dominated. Completely.
Those who try to slight Phil will bring up the talent he had playing for him. Jordan, Pippen, Grant, Rodman, Shaq, Kobe, Pau, Lamar, and Ron. True, those are some great players, but hasn't Mike D'Antoni coached great talent? Hasn't George Karl? Rick Adelman? Or even Jerry Sloan? No rings on their fingers. How about the ones that have won Championships with great talent? Larry Brown. Doc Rivers. Gregg Popovich. None of them has gone back-to-back, never mind have the chance to win a fourth three-peat. Not even the great Pat Riley has accomplished what Phil Jackson has. Phil maximizes his opportunities like no other coach in sports. Phil has lost sometimes as well, but it was in some of the "losing" campaigns that have brought out the Zen Master's finest work.
He won his first title in his second season as head coach of the Bulls, a year after getting bounced by the Pistons, who would go on to repeat. In 1994-95, he led the Michael Jordan-less Bulls to 55 wins and one win away from returning to the Eastern Conference Finals. Upon Mike's return in 1995-96, Phil led the Bulls to the best regular season ever with 72 wins. There was also his return to the Lakers in 2005-06, in which he nearly guided a Kobe led team with a supporting cast that started Like Walton, Smush Parker, and Kwame "F#@!)ing" Brown (seriously?) to nearly upsetting the Championship contending Suns in the First Round. Then following an injury-decimated 2006-07, in which the Lakers still finished the season over .500 in a tough Western Conference, he was coaching them to the best record in the West in 2007-08 before the Pau trade.
We know what happened that next. King Philip and the Lakers took their beating in the Finals, went home, worked harder and won the next two Championships, and are favored to win it this year. You see, while some of us were questioning whether Phil still had the hunger (after seemingly getting out-coached by Doc Rivers in 2008), he re-focused by turning Pau into man, Ariza into a stud, Lamar into a difference maker, keeping faith in Fish, believing in Ron Artest, and knowing when to reign in Kobe.
It's not just about talent with Phil. The man can coach his ass off. Why else does he run a system no one else dares to even try? Sorry Kurt Rambis, you don't count. When running on all cylinders, nothing seems as beautiful as the Triangle at work. Just think, before Bynum was starting, the Lakers were a top 2-3 scoring team in the NBA. The others were typically Phoenix or Golden State - two teams that ran as often as possible. See, they made it a point to score a lot. Phil's Triangle teams just can't be stopped when in tune. But his best teams always played great defense. The Bulls with MJ and Scottie, the Shaq and Kobe's Lakers, and last year's Lakers were all very good defensive teams.
We head into this 2010-11 NBA season with many story lines to follow; The Lakers have improved their suspect bench; the Miami Heat "Super Power" are sure to be threats; the Boston Celtics have re-tooled; Dwight Howard has been working on his offense. The most important, for Lakers fans at least, is that this will be Phil Jackson's last season as Lakers head coach. Or so we've been told, since we never really know when it comes to what's on Phil's mind.
Nevertheless, we head into this season with the greatest coach the NBA's ever had being a "lame duck" coach. It's possible that he may have decided the wanted to leave after this season, but with the drama that played all last season and into the summer between Dr. Buss, Jeannie and Phil, it sure seems like Phil was politely shown the door. Something Jackson has only reinforced with his comments alluding to the possibility of still wanting to coach after this season. If that's the case, why not for the Lakers? Much like Kobe, I don't want to see Phil on another sideline. For selfish reasons, I do hope this is his last campaign and his finest. The Lakers know how important home court is, so even though they turned it on once the Playoffs started last season, they also can't afford to concede the best record in the NBA. They won the Chip in large part due to the fact that they played Games 6 & 7 at Staples Center. They might not be so lucky this year if they treat the season so nonchalantly. Phil will have his guys ready. He's even brought the beard back. He's ready...
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