July 02, 2010
Phil Jackson has forged a group of Los Angeles Lakers that will walk over hot coals for him. They appreciate his patience, his ability to shape and shift the rules to suit the context and the individual. They appreciate his honest tone, and welcome his understanding, while wanting to do better, all the time.
And it's Jackson's return to the sideline in 2010-11, and subsequent declaration that this will be his last go-round as Laker coach, combined with all that I mentioned above, that will have the Lakers as odds-on favorites to win next season. And it should have the Lakers as odds-on favorites to win next summer, no matter what happens outside of Los Angeles this summer.
Because this year's Laker team dawdled, but they also seemed to understand at all the right moments (after all the other, ahem, moments had been frittered away) when and how to execute and make things right. To work out a win. And honestly, nothing short of some hellacious free agent troika ending up in Miami would have me thinking that any team could take it to the Lakers. Even with that version of the Heat in place, I'm sorry, my money's on the Lakers.
There will be complications. Nothing about Phil, health-wise, is well. He might have to take games off and hand the team over to Brian Shaw for short turns. Any sprained this or turned that could derail a run, a season, or a chance at home-court advantage. Bryant, as we saw in Game 7 against the Celtics last month, could want to win so badly that he decides to do it his way.
Something in me believes that Jackson has a salve, a solution, for all of that. Even though he fell short in 2003, 2004, and 2008; the guy just seems to have the answers.
He'll need them, next year, no matter where these free agents run to. As it is with Doc Rivers, nothing about Los Angeles' 2010-11 season will be easy, on any level. As tough as defending the crown was last year, trying for a three-peat will be even tougher.
Jackson knows this, though. And that might be Los Angeles' greatest asset.