Phil Jackson recently sat down for a lengthy chat with USA Today. They discussed his future in the NBA (Phil doesn’t want to coach again), Dwight Howard and the Houston Rockets (he thinks they can reach the NBA Finals), the analytics movement, and of course, the floundering Los Angeles Lakers. The Zen Master playfully suggests that Jesus (or Mohammed, maybe Gandhi) would do a good job coaching the Lakers:
“Right, so I think the Lakers will probably stay pretty pat, make another extension of the year that they had this year with the younger players and players coming in that they can look at and see if they can’t get a core group of young players playing together. Trust the fact that Mike (D’Antoni) can kind of blend a gun and run and run and gun team.”
Q: Is there any scenario where you get back in that mix? I’ve heard some chatter that you could become even more involved there, and there’s this idea that time heals all wounds and even though the way the coaching situation went down was botched that you could play a role, whether with (general manager) Mitch (Kupchak) in the front office or something else. Is that plausible at all?
“I don’t think so. I have a good relationship with the vice president in business affairs (Jeanie Buss) — at least it has been pretty good (laughs). She’s dedicated to their family running the business and trying to feel what that’s like. Their father’s memorial service is not a year old, but he has been gone for a year now and they’re still just kind of figuring out, ‘How are we going to do this?’ So I think they want to have an opportunity to do it. And Mitch, obviously, has a relationship with (Lakers executive vice president of player personnel and Jeanie’s brother) Jimmy that has been going on since, I think, 2004 or so, when he started becoming really involved. So for the last 10 years, he and Mitch have been pretty much working together. (Late Lakers owner) Dr. (Jerry) Buss came in on things. We had a few issues. Kobe (Bryant) had an issue one year. We had an issue getting Pau (Gasol). Some of the major moves, Dr. Buss was still there. But the other stuff Jimmy and Mitch have been working on. They’ve got a relationship, so I don’t see that happening.”
Q: Did you ever get complete clarity on whose decision it was to back out of what seemed like an agreement (when the Lakers hired Mike D’Antoni in Nov. 2012 after it appeared Jackson was returning)?
“You know, it was something that has bounced from spot to spot. When I left (the interview), Jimmy was pretty happy about it and Mitch was still saying, “We’re going to keep interviewing people,” and I think the ultimate (decision) kind of rested with Dr. Buss and he made the decision in the hospital the day after. I haven’t chosen to bite on that. I’ve just let that go. I’m real comfortable with it. I don’t have any trouble. I think Jesus could probably coach this team pretty well, but outside of him maybe Mohammed, maybe Gandhi, someone like that.”
Q: I hear you, but there’s still this puzzling dynamic that’s out there relating to you. For all the success you had, guys who worked for you don’t always have the red carpet rolled out like you might think when it comes to getting jobs.
“No. Well, the game has moved on to another level. Three-point shooting has become like the (pauses). Really the analytics people have taken it to the point of saying, ‘The worst shot in the game is a 20-foot jumper, a two-point jumper that’s 20 (feet).’ And the best shot might be the corner three. Efficiency, OERs (offensive efficiency ratings), all these efficiency ratings are pointing to how many points per possession you generate from certain types of shots. … But there’s so much more to the game.
“I like the analytics. We were always on the forefront of that. I’m not going to go after that. I think that it’s a really important movement. I think a lot of owners have turned the game, the general managers’ jobs, over to people who are more analytic-minded than basketball hierarchy or guys who have been around the league. I mean it seems to be the pattern, and I think they speak their language because a lot of these guys are financial guys. You give them statistics — this stock has done such and such over the past three months, and this is up. This is a language that they can talk, and a statistical language that’s pretty good. So I can understand that penchant. I do think that it’s still about that being able to look a guy in the eyes and kind of understand that this one is going to go in the fox hole with you and this guy is going to be one of the guys who’s on board with what we’re doing. Yeah, he’s going to be on the line when it comes to that time that’s the challenge. And then the rest of the stuff kind of falls in together. So I know that the penchant for following a lot of the things that are happening in the league is that as humans we kind of run with the pack a lot. I’ve been a Maverick, and that’s just who I am. But I certainly follow what’s going on and make a decision about what can I use and what’s efficient for me and what’s good for me. You know, the offense that I instituted is not what the NBA was doing in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and the game has moved on by that and a lot of people like to point at the Triangle as antiquated and (say) it works well in women’s basketball etc. etc. But it takes a lot of skill. And to coach skill, you have to spend a lot of time teaching skills.”