Thursday, June 11, 2009

NBA Finals: A Jackson detractor emerges from the shadows

By John McMullen, NBA Editor

A championship ring usually validates a head coach.

You win the big one and all of a sudden the resume looks a lot more impressive.

So, how about nine championship rings?

You would think that kind of success would immunize any coach to criticism.

Well, not so fast.

On the surface, few dare to question Phil Jackson's coaching skills. After all, the Lakers' mentor is halfway to winning his record 10th NBA title while roaming the sidelines.

Off the record, in the bowels of many NBA arenas, there are quite a few Jackson detractors. In fact, more than a few players, coaches and front office people think Jackson is more con-man than coach, more grifter than teacher.

Known for his use of Tex Winter's triangle offense as well as a holistic approach to coaching that is influenced by Eastern philosophy, Jackson isn't exactly your typical NBA coach.

The thought process among his cynics is simple.

Jackson's critics think he won the lottery by inheriting perhaps the game's greatest player, Michael Jordan, as he was entering his prime. Six championships later, Jackson made sure he bolted the Windy City when Jordan decided to call it quits.

Critics think Phil Jackson won the lottery by inheriting perhaps the game's greatest player.
Smartly, the "Zen master" cherry-picked his next gig and headed west to Los Angeles, who just happened to have Shaquille O'Neal and this generation's best player, Kobe Bryant. After another three titles, Jackson walked away after O'Neal and Bryant's acrimonious divorce, only to return when Mitch Kupchak began to rebuild the roster.

Like him or not, Jackson clearly has no desire to coach an NBA team without a championship-type roster. He has also never been regarded as an X's and O's guy. Even Jackson's staunchest supporters would never dare say he could match a Larry Brown or Gregg Popovich on the whiteboard.

That truth came to the forefront in Game 2 of the NBA Finals when Orlando's Stan Van Gundy devised a brilliant play coming out of a timeout with 0.6 seconds left that should have won the game for the Magic. Jackson's Lakers looked lost, but were saved when Courtney Lee blew a layup.

One Jackson critic emerged from the shadows Wednesday and discussed the coach's perceived shortcomings.

"To tell you the truth, Phil doesn't have to do anything but call timeouts," former NBA great Alonzo Mourning said.

Mourning, who was speaking on a conference call to promote the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship at Lake Tahoe, scheduled for July 17-19, thinks Bryant is running everything in LA.

"Kobe is the facilitator. He is the one driving the mission of this particular team right now," the outspoken Mourning continued. "The communication level he has with his teammates out there, you can just see it."

Bryant is often seen in team huddles, coaching up his teammates and telling them what to do on the floor, while the detached Jackson confers with his assistants, presumably talking strategy.

Mourning isn't so sure.

"I think Phil is just showing up to tell you the truth and Kobe is doing all the work to make this team successful."

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