It'll never end, you know, the chatter about Phil Jackson and the Los Angeles Lakers. Why should it? Especially when Phil probably had a mind to consider coaching the team before Mike D'Antoni took over as Lakers coach, and the Lakers certainly entertained the idea before giving in to Jim Buss' whims and settling on D'Antoni. The speculation is over, D'Antoni is here to stay and Jackson probably won't ever see a Laker sideline again, but on the heels of his first actual interview following the Lakers' decision, Phil seems as bemused and at ease as ever.
And, because it's 2012, the first interview didn't go to Sam Smith or Roland Lazenby or one of the writers for the Los Angeles Times. Instead, some TMZ freelancer with a camera caught up to Phil in California on Monday, and TMZ has the quotes (if, not the shared video).
Phil Jackson says he's NOT bitter at the Lakers for passing him over for the head coaching job earlier this month ... claiming Lakers brass decided to go with Mike D'Antoni in a "midnight coup."
The Zen Master was out in Santa Barbara this weekend ... when he was asked if he felt the Lakers treated him unfairly during the negotiations. Jackson explained, "We never discussed any terms ... so there was never anything unfair about it."
Phil -- now 67-years-old -- also made it clear ... the chances of him ever coaching in the NBA again are "slim and none."
For those maybe retching at the idea of a "midnight coup" as descriptive phrase veering to the side of the absurdly dramatic, we should also remind that Phil, Mike D'Antoni, and the whole of the sporting world was completely caught off guard by the midnight Pacific time confirmation from the Lakers that they would be hiring D'Antoni. Hiring him just hours after hearing the Staples Center crowd chant Jackson's name during a Lakers win over the Sacramento Kings.
In terms of the "fairness"?
Phil is being tactful — he asked for more time to mull before delving into serious negotiations, the Lakers initially gave it to him and then (in a likely sign of the divisiveness in the team's front office, even if personnel moves from that front office typically come out smelling like roses) decided to take it away. Los Angeles, technically, did nothing wrong. Jackson was up front with what he wanted in terms of needing time to consider before talking compensation, they agreed, and then another front office influence took over to change the team's official stance from "sure, we'll talk on Monday" to "nope, and we're moving on and signing the other guy without you finding out until it's all over."
Former Jackson assistant Brian Shaw was at one time Kobe Bryant's favorite to take over Phil's chair, in 2011, before the team followed Buss' nose and hired Mike Brown, and he's even less charitable than me, at this point. Jim Buss went out of his way to drive all remnants of the Jackson Era away from Los Angeles in 2011, down to scouting staff even, and Shaw was the most notable casualty.
He tells Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times (who broke the D'Antoni hiring) that the Lakers were clumsy in the turnover:
"Under the circumstances, Phil Jackson, who's been there and done that and put a lot of money in everybody's pockets around here, the way it was done . . . it's mind-boggling," Shaw said Monday in an interview with The Times. "I was joking with him, at least you got a phone call, even though it was midnight.
"In 11 years he was coach here, he took the team to the Finals seven times and won five. I don't know if any of the other 29 teams would have done him the way he was done [by the Lakers] after he had done so much for the organization and the city."
And as for the cable TV chatter surrounding Jackson's "slim and none" comment? It really is "slim and none," people. He'd coach the Lakers, and that's about it. And last we looked the Lakers have a fantastic coach in Mike D'Antoni who is well equipped to lead the team's current roster to a title or three.
Of course, that knowledge and this current roster doesn't chase away the continuing trade rumors surrounding the still-struggling Pau Gasol. Bresnahan recently delved into the possibility of a deal featuring the former All-Star, which remains a long shot because of what Gasol is owed over the next two seasons (over $38 million), and the fact that the Lakers don't really want to trade the guy right now.
(The second one sort of gets in the way, y'know?)
Gasol has been in four entirely different offenses the last three seasons. It's pretty obvious which one he prefers. He did everything but give a figurative hug to the triangle offense Monday.
"It put me in a natural position, which was post. I could score and I could pass," he said. "It was a perfect fit for me when I got here and Andrew [Bynum] was out. I had a lot of minutes and it was a need to cover.
"Now it's a different personnel, different need, different look, different system, different positioning. As a professional, you adjust to a different position in your company and try to do your best so the company still finds you a valuable asset and the company still performs as well as it did before."
As we discussed last week, not only is Gasol struggling to keep up with D'Antoni's transition-heavy offense, but his shot attempts even in Brown and interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff's offense looked off. He's fading on his long jumpers, his dodgy midrange percentages reflect that, and even his improvised hooks come complete with Pau leaning away on shots he usually follows through on. The legs just aren't there.
And hopefully, by the time those legs return, the Laker coaching staff can find a way to do something about what we've known for years — at his age Pau Gasol works better as a center than as a power forward. The Lakers have one of the last great low post demons, and they're sticking him some 16-feet from the hoop.
Laker center Dwight Howard's effectiveness has gone down this season as he returns from a nagging back injury, but his low post game's numbers (in spite of some observers' annoyance at the fact that he doesn't quite resemble Kareem Abdul-Jabbar every night out) have long been superb. His work down there isn't as pretty as Gasol's, but it is effective. It's also worth giving him a blow, though, from time to time without having Dwight leave the court.
Let Howard, essentially, work as a dive-down power forward with Gasol spying things from the low post. It's true that Howard's inability to stick a jumper will leave defenders playing off of him, but that won't be a problem if the offense is moving fluidly and defenders have no choice but to clamp down once the pass that leads to the pass that leads to the pass that leads to the pass has Howard roaring in from the perimeter to finish at the rim. Not unlike the way Amar'e Stoudemire used to in Phoenix with Steve Nash.
The Times mentions that the Lakers are waiting to see how Gasol meshes with a fully healthy Nash before considering a move, but his return isn't a panacea. A pick and roll with Nash and Gasol resulting in endless face-up jumpers for Gasol won't put Pau in a position to succeed. Gasol has to be down low, and Howard's underrated (and improving) offensive abilities will allow for a flip of the script every so often in order to gain some meaningful production from the player they're paying over $38 million a year to cover the next two seasons.
It's that number, combined with Pau's age (32), that will get in the way of some killer deal for the Lakers. Dealing him to New York for Stoudemire just brings in a lesser player with all the same issues between the power forward and center positions, one that is healthy far less and makes way more money. The Atlanta Hawks don't need 32-year-old Gasol at the expense of Josh Smith (who shoots worse from the perimeter than Pau anyway), and there just aren't many teams desperate to take Pau on for that price; in spite of his considerable skills.
Move on, Laker fans. Watch the autumn and winter games, and eat away days until Nash returns and spring comes around. This is your team for a while.
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