Great Coaches Are Very Rare, and Phil Jackson Is the Rarest of All

Byron Scott got me thinking, last night.

See, the Cavs have decided to go with him as their replacement for Mike Brown. My first thought when the rumor started going around that this was all but a done deal? "Whew!" We dodged a bullet with that one. Of course, Phil Jackson's return made it a moot point... but still. If I was a Cavs fan, I'd be about ready to throw myself off a cliff, right now. Byron Scott? Really??

It's not just that he's not an upgrade over Mike Brown — and he's definitely not. Brown was not a great offensive coach, but the Cavs could have done a lot worse. As per usual in the NBA, the coach became the fall guy, and the blame belonged elsewhere. As per usual in LeBron James' world, elsewhere was the last place blame was ever going to be assigned. But it's not just that Scott is a downgrade from Brown. It's much simpler than that.

He's not a good coach. He's just not. We've talked about it plenty, around here, so I won't rehash. He's just not.

And that got me thinking about Phil Jackson.

The truth is that a good coach is a truly rare commodity in the NBA. A good coach is like a franchise player: there are precious few of them, nowhere near enough to go around. No, check that. There are more franchise players than there are good coaches.

A good coach is like a top tier player. Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul... are there that many good coaches in the NBA? Maybe, just barely. But enough about "good" coaches; that's neither here nor there, after all.

How about a great coach? A great coach is even more rare than a truly dominant, transcendent player. Right now, in the NBA, there are three — and one of them isn't coaching. With Pat Riley in Miami's front office, that leaves Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich. Maybe Jerry Sloan is knocking on the door. Maybe. But that's it. Those are your great coaches.

Think about that for a moment. Think of how rare it is to have a once-in-a-generation talent like Kobe Bryant. Now think of how rare it is to have a once-in-a-lifetime coach like Phil Jackson. Because Phil Jackson isn't just a great coach. He's the greatest. And that makes him the rarest thing there is.

Great players are hard to come by. Great coaches, maybe even harder. If your team has one or the other, you count yourself lucky. Blessed indeed is the team that has both.

Yes, PJ has been fortunate to coach the best players in the world. But they have also been fortunate to be coached by him. Ask anyone who knows anything about basketball, and it's not even a question. When asked about those who claim Jackson has only won because he had MJ, Pippen, Shaq and Kobe, Bryant said his response to them would be, "Don't talk to me about basketball. You don't know [expletive] about the game, obviously. We're done."

For years, we've been fortunate to watch not only the best player in the world wearing our colors, but also the greatest coach in history at the helm. And now, we're fortunate to have the Zen Master back for another year, another run at the title. A chance to do something magical, and a chance we simply wouldn't have without him.

It's a chance few teams ever get, because great coaches are so hard to come by, in this league. It's why, if I was LeBron James, the only place I'd be looking at would be Chicago. Because many teams can offer him a solid supporting cast, but how many of them can offer even a good coach? True, he probably considers Mike D'Antoni a very good coach (I think he's decent, at best), so if the coach matters, maybe New York gets added to that short list. And of course, he could always lure Riles back to the bench in Miami, except for the fact that the last thing LeBron wants to do is share championship credit with Dwyane Wade. Is Tom Thibodeau a great coach? Not yet, but we know he's a brilliant defensive coach, and from where I'm standing, he at least presents more potential for coaching greatness than any other of LeBron's serious suitors. The rest? No thanks.

I'd be thinking really hard about that, if I was LeBron James. Because good coaches are awfully hard to come by, and great ones practically impossible. Fortunately for me, and for the team I root for, the Lakers don't have to worry about any of that. We're fortunate to have the best coach of all time coaching the best player and the best team in the game.

That's what Byron Scott got me thinking about, and I will never take it for granted again.

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