The Triangle offense has enjoyed a nice little run of success over the past 20 years. Since the 1990-91 season, there have been more champions who believe in the principles of the ol' "Triple Post" offense than use some other antiquated stategy for putting a ball in an iron hoop. Really, when you think about it, it's a minor miracle that so few teams have tried to give the Triangle a shot. If this were a copy cat league like the NFL, a full 60-70% of the league's teams would be trying to duplicate success by running the Triangle, and screen-roll dominant guards like Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo might be reduced to coming off the bench for a few minutes at a time, as Kevin Harlan proclaims "It looks like the Hornets are turning to their Wildcat offense, looking for a spark."
But the NBA is not a copy cat league. In the NBA, each coach has their system, and they tend to stick to that system as stubbornly as my local brewery sticks to its silly notion that pants should be required for service. Not so coincidentally, the Triangle's reign of success has resided within the same space/time continuum as one Phil Jackson, who's resume contains all eleven of those Triangle-running championship squads. Of course, it's not just pride that keeps other coaches from attempting to adopt what has proven to be a winning strategy. There are a number of reasons why, depsite its high level of success, the Triangle doesn't look like an appealing option for a coach on the outside looking in.
For one, the offense is a bit tricky to grasp. Just ask Ron Artest, who's positioning and comfort within the Triangle last year was his one gloriously hideous blemish on an otherwise stellar season. If understanding it is that hard, one can reasonably assume that teaching it is even more difficult. In addition, not all coaches are lucky enough to have had Tex Winter on speed dial to help out with the Triangle's finer points. Health has reduced Tex's role in Phil Jackson's life lately, but for most of the past 20 years, PJ has had one hell of a Triangle tutor on call if things start to break down.
Another important aspect of running the Triangle is having the right personnel to properly take advantage of the benefits provided. One of the Triangle's main functions is to reduce or eliminate the concept of a "primary" ball handler. The offense is not supposed to focus on or rely upon a single player to create opportunities, instead encouraging a steady stream of ball and player movement that more equally distributes responsibility for offensive acheivement across the roster. Thus, every player on the roster, from point guard up to center, theoretically needs to be able to handle these responsibilities, meaning you need to have big men who can pass, perimeter players who know when to cut to the basket, and a generally high average "basketball IQ" across the roster. Specific roles still exist within the offense, but interchangibility is highly encouraged, because if you can plug a shooting guard in the post (where the center might usually be), it will likely cause a matchup advantage with a defender who is in an uncomfortable position. To make a long story short, a Triangle ready roster needs players at every position who have a broader skill set than might normally be required.
Almost as important as what is required of a roster primed for the Triangle is what is not required, i.e. a traditional point guard. Since there is no need for a primary ball handler, having a guy who is used to being the primary ball handler doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and can actually be detrimental to both the team and player (hence the divorce between the Lakers and Jordan Farmar). Farmar's departure, and Steve Blake's subsequent arrival, means that, for the first time since the Shaq-Kobe years, Phil Jackson finally has a thoroughly Triangle-friendly roster. What's more, with the Lakers committed to at least 3 of the 5 guards on the roster (including both point guards) for the next three years, we're promised the perfect Triangle personnel for at least that long.
There's just one problem ... Phil Jackson may not be here that long.
Predicting whether or not Phil Jackson will return to coaching every year is like a mild case of the Brett Favre saga, so I guess it is no guarantee that Phil will hang up his comfy coaching chair so that he can sit at home instead of on the Lakers sidelines after this season. But, upon his promise to return, PJ was quoted saying "It'll be the last stand for me, and I hope a grand one" which doesn't exactly leave much room for doubt.
So, if we assume that Phil was serious and this will be his last season, the obvious question is what happens next? Normally, when a coaching search begins, even one as high profile and ready for success as next year's Lakers squad would be, the incoming coach will dictate what the new system will be. However, with the Lakers so locked in to their very specific roster for so long, it's hard to imagine them being able to successfully run any other system. The last time the Lakers ran an offense other than the Triangle, it did not go well. Mitch Kupchak remebers that disaster. So does Kobe Bryant. And that was with a roster which was (theoretically) designed to play a different style, since Shaq and all the veterans that the Lakers surrounded him with were put to pasture before the change over.
When Phil Jackson's return for the current season was in doubt, there was much debate over possible coaching candidates. Byron Scott and Brian Shaw were the two names most often mentioned. Shaw was favored in Lakerland, mainly because Scott has a bit of a history of losing teams, and Shaw has no history at all. However, I think Shaw is preferred for an entirely different reason. Normally, a head coach dictates the system, but when Phil Jackson does finally walk away from this team, I'm hoping it'll be the other way around. More than any man (on the coaching staff at least), I think Captain Triangle is driving this ship, and there are too many members of his crew which can't serve any other master.