Weekly Countdown: NBA's leading coach still finds work to be done
The winningest modern-day coach could be on his way to an 11th championship, which would put Jackson two titles ahead of
"When this extension came along, there was no doubt about taking it at that point," he said of his current deal. "I've had a couple of situations in my own life that have changed -- my separation from a wife that raised a family for 25 years, and that was a financially devastating situation. I had a couple of financial situations that came about that changed my life in the last 10 years, as everybody has. Everybody has taken a loss [in the stock markets]."
At the same time, Jackson said he feels a need to continue working, to reclaim vitality in his approach to work. "Working is still something I think I would do if I were a firefighter and I had a retirement," he said. "I'd still probably go out and have another job because I think you have to work. I really believe that now, and watching
"But there's still work to be done:
"You're always going to have someone who questions why or how he got to this point [and claims] that he had the best players," Trail Blazers coach
They are equals.
In this era of young, entitled players who enter the NBA with one year or less of college experience -- let's call it the Kobe Bryant era -- most franchises have struggled to find a coach who can relate to these unfinished talents. But here's the interesting dynamic: There are currently six NBA coaches who are 60 or older, and they are
Jackson's most ironic legacy has been his understated approach. Coaches who tend to lose their temper --
Jackson's approach is based on a respect for the players, as well as an understanding that they can be influenced to pursue team goals.
"You can't fool these guys," Jackson said. "In basketball, for sure, they've been pursued since they were 12, 11, 13 years of age usually. They've seen all kinds of 'yes' people, back-slappers. So they're pretty savvy ... even though they're athletes, and athletes by and large still have some naïveté, because they are taken advantage of without a doubt by certain agents or plans or schemes.
"But I think they are savvy to character, and I think that's what wins the day with them. It wins the day as far as the leadership that they have, and I think our team leadership is really good.
"When I came back they said, 'You can help make all of those decisions,' " Jackson said. "Given that accord, I said fine, I can do this. The biggest thing was signing off on [the decision to spend a No. 10 pick for center]
"But all of these opportunities we talked about -- [acquiring]
When Bryant asked to be traded in 2007 because he was frustrated by the Lakers' failure to build a contending team around him, Jackson said he took up Bryant's side of the argument, which, in turn, helped result in the blockbuster acquisition of Gasol in February 2008 that immediately recast the Lakers as NBA finalists and eventual champions.
"The issue of Kobe Bryant, when there were rumors and insinuations that he wanted to be traded -- we sat for hours and worked out this situation, which brought this into what it is today," Jackson said. "It was painful. Even though Kobe and I had to end up on the other side of the coin in this deal, in which management and player and coach all kind of seemed to be on opposite sides, sometimes the coach has to have one side to support the player. I think that was really the strength that brought this [new championship era] into fruition."
Now that players are able to leverage the threat of free agency to negotiate enormous guaranteed salaries and scheme to have coaches fired if they so please, Jackson's long-standing reply as coach has been to offer his players freedom of choice. The triangle offense is not based on running the play as dictated by the coach. Instead it puts players in position to make their own decisions, with Jackson counseling them to ultimately do what is best for the team. He doesn't pretend that he can force them to do anything they don't choose to do for themselves. And so Michael and Shaq and Kobe each become his partner in a shared mission to win championships.
"That's an empowering place for the player to be in, once you finally understand as a player of his that he really is trusting you with this multitude of decisions out there on the court -- and now just go do it," Fisher said. "It's a great approach because we never feel like this is a job or we're obligated to do what we do for this team. Even though it is our job, and we get paid very well for it, he puts together an environment where we are allowed to make the choice to be successful, and it has worked."
If it is fair to note that Jackson has profited from his relationships with the league's best players, then it also is fair to ask whether Jordan, O'Neal and Bryant would be so respected if they had never played for Jackson. None of those players had won a championship before he came into their lives. Think of how Bryant was perceived following the 34-win season of 2004-05 -- as a pariah, a selfish scorer who couldn't relate to teammates while running Shaq out of town. Four short years later, Bryant is now viewed as a peer of Jordan's, a team leader within reach of equaling or surpassing Jordan's six championships. Whether or not you care for Bryant personally, you have to admit that his upside-down transformation has been almost miraculous.
"My concern is with my team," he said. "I watch the tapes of my games, and I let my assistant coaches watch the game tape of other teams. And then I try to understand the strengths and weaknesses, and how we can hide the weaknesses and embellish the strengths of our team. And I stay in tune with my players to that.
"I had to let go of the fact that I couldn't watch everything. At one time I did it in Chicago. I still was trying to work 12 hours a day to watch game tape and watch our own tape. And it gets overwhelming. You do that in the playoffs regardless, but in the regular season, you have to say, 'This is what we can do, and this is what we have to do well.' "
He knows when and how to focus the players' attention. Last Sunday morning, I waited at the Lakers' practice facility as Jackson walked them through their longest pregame shootaround of the year. That night they were playing the Mavericks, the current No. 2 seed in the West who, in October, embarrassed the Lakers with a 94-80 win in Los Angeles. More recently, the Lakers had been playing porous defense in the absence of Artest, but that night they held Dallas to 37.8 percent shooting in a 131-96 rout.
I asked Jackson how he has been able to keep renewing the joy in his work after all of these years. "Going through the first two years of coaching, coming back with this team taught me a lot about that aspect of it," he said of 2005-07, when his young Lakers went 87-77 with a pair of first-round losses in the playoffs. "How to nurture a team through a very difficult time and still come out and be competitive and get to the playoffs and all of that stuff, and know that this is not a championship-caliber team and that I can't demand the same competency from this group of guys that I did from the others."
The trick is to separate the money from the mission of creating a team that pursues goals that are larger than any one man can accomplish by himself. Which, again, is not to pretend that the money doesn't exist. Rather, its influence has a parallel existence all its own.
"Recently a reporter made mention of that," Jackson said of his salary. "I said I may not come back next year; I mean, they may not want to pay a coach to do what I'm doing, and with the NBA and other sports all feeling the pinch from this economy and television and things that all are shrinking, they may have to shrink the coach's salary. And I understand that, and that's why this is a process. But one reporter asked, 'Would you take a pay cut?' And I said back to him, 'Would you?'
"That kind of came off wrong -- it was one of my journalist friends, you know -- not really realizing that newspapers have been hit almost harder than anything else in our society right now. They have taken pay cuts. And we all are going to take a pay cut in the NBA as it goes on."
As with all aspects of Jackson's career, the conversation funnels its way back to the Jordan era, when the money poured in and the growth of the NBA seemed without end.
"The funny thing is that Tex Winter's wife,
The league has been waiting for a legal resolution of West's motorcycle incident. Next month, he will be tried on eight misdemeanor charges in Maryland after being arrested in September while carrying two loaded handguns and a loaded shotgun in a guitar case. If West is found guilty, he will surely be suspended.
Arenas was suspended indefinitely on Wednesday because he literally brought his controversy into the arena by pretending to shoot teammates during a pregame huddle. Had Arenas behaved wisely and not drawn attention to his predicament -- instead of making light of it -- he might not have faced a suspension until the legal investigation was complete. West has given no interviews since his arrest, has not tweeted about it and has not pretended to shoot his teammates.
Every league or organization is going to apply its own standards to these incidents. The punishment issued by Stern may be different from that of the University of Tennessee, the SEC or the NCAA. Stern is running a business, and he is going to do what he believes is in the best interest of that business. We can talk about morals and fairness, and while those issues surely will play a role in any decision on Arenas and
Maybe circumstances will change as the year progresses, but I have a feeling Brown would get lost in that starting lineup among so many strong personalities. He is helpful to them in a limited role, but it isn't fair to expect him to take on big minutes for a championship contender. Fisher is being limited to 26.8 minutes per game, which should keep him fresh enough for the playoffs.
The Lakers are No. 2 in field-goal defense (43.4 percent) without having maxed out at that end of the floor. They've played a lot of home games, which will make their schedule more difficult over the months ahead, but for them to be playing this level of defense with Gasol and Artest in and out of the lineup is a frightening sign for the rest of the league. The Lakers don't need to change their lineup; all they need is a restoration of health for Gasol. The extended run of games on the road should galvanize and toughen them. They clearly are the team to beat.
That's a good question. The Knicks are viewing free agency as a two-year project, with cap space to spend both this summer and 2011 when Anthony can exercise his option to become a free agent. If the Knicks fail to land a big name this summer, look for them to pursue solid moves to improve the team while leaving enough space to acquire Anthony or another star the following year. This is not going to be an all-or-nothing summer for them.
As he sat at his locker before the game, Roy was spooning out a fine powder into a water bottle. "This is some of my energy stuff," he said. He looked into the bottle to find it empty of powder. "See? I'm out," he said, raising the bottle as he laughed. "I'm out, man."
The depleted Blazers lost that night at the Clippers, as well as the following night at home to Memphis.
At the end of the season, they agreed to play a tennis match. Lucas was a former All-America in tennis at Maryland, and he would play World Team Tennis professionally. "I treated that match as if it was the U.S. Open," Lucas said. "Mike will tell you, 'I played the best tennis I've played in my life.' And he didn't come close to winning a game. I was treating it as if I was playing
Were you talking to Dunleavy?
"The whole time," Lucas said. "With my serve, I could make it go here, I could make it go there, and so I had him doing the
Last summer, Kidd hired two coaches -- one for shooting, the other for conditioning -- and worked out in San Diego with his 11-year-old son,
You would demand a trade out of town?
"Exactly," he said. "Because I feel like I can still play at a high level. And I'm not ready to sit in that chair yet."
"New Year's Eve [in Rome], we had a great time," Knox said. "At 10:30 that night, Terrence and Brandon decided to go to the gym to play one-on-one. It was just us in the gym and I'm just having fun laughing at the both of them because Terrence is trying to hang with Brandon. And I can remember us coming out at 11:30, we'd bought fireworks from the store and we're lighting the fireworks and there was music on the car radio and we were out there in the parking lot dancing. And then I remember coming home and we had a window in the apartment overlooking Rome, it was just so beautiful, and we were watching all of the fireworks. We had so much fun together."
And last week, one year later, they were reunited in Milwaukee, knowing that their time in Rome had led to something even better.