Much of my recent mail focused on the Lakers and Phil Jackson in particular. People love to disparage Jackson's accomplishments because he has had so much talent on his teams. Several people asked whether I thought Jackson would have won any titles without superstars.
The answer is no. But Pat Riley, Red Auerbach, Red Holzman, Chuck Daly, Lawrence Frank, George Karl and James Naismith also couldn't, for that matter. Superstars win titles, but coaches certainly help them do it. One thing I know: Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and Scottie Pippen never won a ring without Phil.
The guy has nine rings. Does anybody out there really think he just got lucky? He's a great coach – make that a phenomenal one – who understands the delicate balance of managing egos, enforcing discipline when necessary and getting his stars to share the ball.
His job this year with the Lakers is his most difficult. Besides Karl Malone, his superstars all complain about shots, money, minutes, the offense, each other and anything else they can think of. Malone seems to be the only one of the four who has his mind focused on winning. And it's Phil's job to deal with that. Not easy. But I wouldn't bet against him to get it done.
With that in mind, let's start with your thoughts on my recent Kobe Bryant column and take it from there with some questions. Later this week we'll share some of your thoughts on Peja Stojakovic, the Minnesota Timberwolves and the All-Stars.
And if you're not familiar with Yahoo! Sports mailbags, it shouldn't always be "Ask Steve." Feel free to include your own opinions on any of my recent columns and audio/video segments, and we'll try to print the best of them in future mailbags. And you get bonus points for including your hometown.
KOBE (Feb. 17: Kobe holds the keys)
My my, aren't you the wit! Your sleazy trash job of Kobe Bryant was right up there with another individual known for his partiality to such gutter swill - Righteous Rush.
Are you the Lakers' towel boy? Get in the game. Garnett beats them all on paper, and on the court. All you ever write about is IF the Lakers were this or that, they'd be unbeatable. Well they are not. And Duncan isn't No. 1, either.
Your words on Kobe were absolutely correct. I thought that Karl Malone's and Gary Payton's decisions would increase the public's respect for the Lakers and even the city of Los Angeles, but the two babies, Shaq and Kobe, have ruined that "dynasty" image and tarnished it to the level of these lame reality shows.
Los Angeles, Calif.
Steve, although my husband and I are true Laker fans, we always enjoyed watching you play, you seemed to be fair and hard working. Please don't spoil your image with a negative reporting style, like you are doing with your comments about Kobe Bryant. Taking comments out of context, and pretty much trying to "stir" up trouble existing between the Laker players is "Enquirer" type reporting.
San Diego, Calif.
Tell us something we don't know. It is so amazing how the media's attitude towards Kobe changes everyday. Give the guy his due.
I agree wholeheartedly with you: Kobe Bryant is the key. And this fact frightens me, as a fan of the Lakers for years. Kobe simply is immature. He may display flashes of brilliance on the court, but he demonstrates that he lacks the intelligence on and off the court of a player like Shaquille O'Neal.
San Diego, Calif.
Now on to more questions and comments. My responses are in italics.
I know it's been done before, but a sports analyst has really got to have a decent article concerning Vince Carter and his injury. I'm quite concerned with him. In some ways, his game has evolved; in other ways, it's degraded. What's up with him?
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
I love Vince Carter's athleticism – who doesn't? But is he a superstar? I don't think so. I think he relies too heavily on his jumper and doesn't use his athletic gifts to be a force in the game. Superstar players separate themselves from stars with their passion, drive and desire to win and improve every day.
Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, MJ – they all had it. Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant have it. They want to win so desperately that they're willing to do anything possible for it to happen. I don't think Vince has that quality. That's not a knock on him as much as it is a compliment to those other guys. Very few players have that combination of incredible talent, passion, work ethic and drive.
How come you never write anything on the Warriors?
San Francisco, Calif.
What's to write? Actually, I've got a name for you: Brian Cardinal. He should be Most Improved Player in the NBA this season. I love his hustle and his quick first step. He's good. Other than that, there's not much to say about your beloved Warriors. Sorry, Beth.
What does your former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, need to be a serious contender? I remember the good teams the Cavs had with Larry Nance, Brad Daugherty, Hot Rod Williams, Mark Price, Craig Ehlo and Steve Kerr. I miss the old Richfield Coliseum.
First and foremost, the Cavaliers need experience. They are so young that they don't know yet how to close out games, although they are getting better. Also, a year or two more of LeBron James and Carlos Boozer playing together will do wonders.
As a fan, you have a bright future. In the next couple of seasons, I'd like to see Cleveland add some good shooters to put around LeBron and I'd like to see a veteran point guard who can really control tempo – someone like Mark Jackson in his prime. Eric Snow has been mentioned, and he would fit the bill. But I like this team and I like the fact that fans are excited about them again.
And Ron, I miss the Richfield Coliseum, too.
I'm wondering what your opinion is on the Bucks. Do they have a shot to seriously disrupt the Eastern playoff bracket?
Can the Bucks be spoilers in the East? Absolutely. They're on a collision course to play New Orleans in the first round, and they're 1-2 so far against the Hornets, but both losses in New Orleans were close games. They easily could beat that team in the playoffs, and as we know, nobody in the East is scaring anyone. They have a chance to make a run. Terry Porter will get some votes for coach of the year. His team wasn't supposed to make the playoffs, but he's got the Bucks playing like the Sacramento Kings of the East. They're running a similar offense with some excellent shooters and passers. They're fun to watch.
I used to watch you play in Chicago and also with the San Antonio Spurs; why the sudden retirement? I believe that you could still play.
Thanks for the nice compliment about my decision to retire. But at 38, my bad knees slowed me down and I got tired of chasing around all the young guys. Besides, last season's ending was like "Fantasy Island." I told Tattoo and Mr. Rourke that I wanted to hit four 3-pointers against the Dallas Mavericks to help close them out in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals, and they made my wish come true. If that wasn't a sign that it was time to move on, I don't know what was.
- Kobe Bryant
- Phil Jackson