Does The NBA Need Phil Jackson Back? Dime Debates

By: 09.11.12
Phil Jackson

We thought it, too. When the Lakers bowed out of the Western Conference Semifinals in 2011 in acrimonious fashion against the Mavericks, it was at the front of our mind: Phil Jackson can’t go out like this, can he? Jackson, with his children in the stands wearing hats commemorating his 11 NBA titles as a coach, had dominated with cool precision in Chicago and Los Angeles. But now the Lakers were frustrated, knocking over J.J. Barea and turning any thought of playing D in Big D into a joke.

Jackson did his homework this season, though, and was reported to have interest in Portland’s administrative side and New York’s coaching spot. It wasn’t hook, line and sinker that he’ll come back to the game he changed, but there was a noticeable tug on the end of the line. The NBA, though, is about reinvention: new stars, new coaches, new storylines, rinse and repeat. Jackson may be the league’s most bankable coach and its direct link to the glory days of Michael Jordan but the question is whether the NBA needs him to be back, or if a new set of coaching upstarts and always-have-beens (Gregg Popovich) will be just fine. What it isn’t about is whether he needs to be back for his own sake, because we believe he’s just as fine staying in focus in Montana as he is directing traffic in an NBA arena.

Does the NBA need to pick up the red phone and get Jackson back to make the league even better? We debated. What do you think?

*** *** ***
NO
Phil Jackson is obviously one of the greatest coaching minds the NBA has ever seen. He perfected the triangle offense — created by Tex Winter — and rode it all the way to 11 NBA championships. When thinking of a Mount Rushmore of coaching, Jackson would be included in the names that most people would blurt out.

Toward the end of his tenure with the Lakers, it seemed like the Zen Master had finally lost his touch, though. The Lakers team that he left was starting to unravel in front of the world. As showcased by Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom in their playoff series with Dallas, these weren’t the Lakers’ best moments. In fact, they may have been some of the worst.

Plain-old unacceptable behavior and the failure to meet championship expectations caused Jackson to call it quits after a disappointing second round defeat to the Dallas Mavericks two seasons ago. One thing was for certain though: some just aren’t able to let go of the game, and where did Jackson fall in that? There are many who have their doubts if Jackson is actually done. After all, it was in his world for the majority of his life. The doubters have their reasons because, for one, it wouldn’t be surprising to any of us if Jackson had a Brett Favre-esque epiphany and felt the need to return to coach a team like New York or come back to L.A.

I, for one, don’t think the NBA needs Jackson anymore. His greatest legacy, his brand of offense, is dead to most of the NBA now. Even though Jackson has been very successful — the most successful — with it, no one else wants to run it and there’s a reason for that. Many coaches know the principles of the triangle offense because they’re fairly simple. There aren’t many extremely hard concepts to grasp. It’s based off of a lot of cutting, baseline screening, and high-post action. To run the offense properly, you need players who can function out of the post (whether high or low). It’s a slow moving offense and allows the team that is utilizing it to have a plain view of the defense and decide where to attack it. The cuts are used to manipulate the defense and get it out of position for a high-percentage shot at the rim.

It sounds really good, but few are the players who have a legitimate, back-to-the-basket post game anymore. The triangle offense is being phased out of the NBA. Now, more and more, teams are moving to an up-tempo offense. Offenses are more perimeter-oriented than ever and the pick-and-roll is now a staple for almost every team in the NBA. The triangle has become the exception to what it once ruled.

— Michael Sykes

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Phil Jackson

Phil Jackson

YES
Phil Jackson is immortal. Phil is Zeus. Phil is God-like. You think I’m it taking too far don’t you? Reality is, I think I might even be undermining his genius and basketball intellect. What befuddles me is that people legitimately think the Zen Master isn’t good for the league anymore – that his time is done. People are enthralled with the young gunners, like Miami’s Erik Spoelstra and Oklahoma City’s Scott Brooks. The NBA wanted to dip into the Fountain of Youth and expel themselves from the powerful aura and legacy of Phil Jackson. Foolish if you ask me.

First off, kudos to Spoelstra and Brooks because they exude the immense passion needed to succeed as coaches in this ultra-competitive league. They have the juice, point blank.

Now, I think Phil is ultimately the Jay-Z of the NBA as far as coaching is concerned. He’s the greatest to ever do it. His resume is impeccable: He has 11 championships, which include six with Chicago and five with the Lakers. He helped remold the definition of coaching. He didn’t need to be overly aggressive and flip chairs over a la Bobby Knight. He didn’t need to overwork his players in gruesome practices a la Pat Riley. His cool demeanor spoke volumes, which transitioned to the performances of the greats, including Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. You would think his path is done after achieving everything he needed to. I don’t think he’s done. I think he has one more chapter that needs to be written.

Before I say this, here’s my disclaimer: I love Mike Woodson. He’s a great coach who excelled tremendously despite having numerous hindrances during his tenure last year as interim coach for New York. But to be frank, Mike isn’t Phil. Nobody is Phil. For people who are Knick fans, I’m going to be brutally honest. If you do not get Jackson and drag him from his fishing boat in Montana, I guarantee you are not seeing a championship.

Now envision this: If you’re David Stern, considering he loves marquee matchups and is always seeking innumerable ways to raise revenue, just ponder at the thought of Phil returning to New York and taking on the daunting task of returning the city of Gotham back to the promise land with the enigma that is Carmelo Anthony. Imagine revitalizing a broken-down Amar’e Stoudemire and having him and ‘Melo obliterating their competition. You have a passionate leader in Tyson Chandler who will already anchor the defense. You have a formidable team that needs guidance.

Now imagine New York gets to the Eastern Conference Finals to face Miami. The storylines are now made. ‘Melo vs. LeBron. The Legend of Jackson against the newest kid on the block in Spoelstra. The rivalry of Miami vs. New York would be maximized.

Then, imagine Phil taking New York back to its first NBA Finals since 1999 and going against his former love and now ex-wife in the form of the Los Angeles Lakers. One man could change the dynamics of the league because of the endless storylines that would be created. ‘Melo vs. Kobe, Phil back in L.A. to get his 12th ring, and possibly bringing New York basketball back to the forefront. Ratings will shoot up entirely. ESPN will eat this up. “First Take” will debate about this for hours. Like Kanye said, “No one man should have all that power” and yet in the case of Phil, he’s the one man who can change the landscape of the league with one simple move — which is to come back.

— Carl Lamarre

Should Phil Jackson come back if he has the chance?

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