Phil Jackson on the Lakers’ struggles: “I know what they need”

As Phil Jackson’s book tour continues, so do the tweaks regarding the Lakers.

They passed him up for the head-coaching job after firing Mike Brown and chose Mike D’Antoni instead. That plan didn’t work out so well. Persisting injuries and the Lakers’ aging personnel struggling to adapt to D’Antoni’s faster-paced system and vice versa largely contributed to the team flaming out in the first round to the San Antonio Spurs.

Don’t expect Jackson to come back. The Lakers have maintained D’Antoni’s returning next season. Jackson has also maintained he doesn’t want to coach anymore, opting instead for an unspecified front office role somewhere. But he offered precise detail on what he’d do if the Lakers approached him again about needing help.

“I would find one of my assistant coaches to help them as quickly as possible,” Jackson said Wednesday to ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd. “I know what they need. “They need to get back inside where the strength of their team is and use that presence in there to dominate games. There’s a way to do that.”

That didn’t happen.

Pau Gasol averaged a career-low 13.7 points on 46.6 percent shooting and 8.6 rebounds partly because of injuries (plantar fascia in right foot, knee tendinitis) and partly because he played out of the post. Dwight Howard averaged 17 points (third among centers) and a league-leading 12.4 rebounds because of injuries (surgically repaired back, partially torn labrum in right shoulder), persisting double teams and limited touches. The two became a stronger focal point later on the in the season. Through seven games in April, the Lakers’ output from both Howard (21.6 points) and Gasol (17.6 points) represented their highest all season when they played together in the starting lineup. Yet, the two remained fairly limited against the Spurs because of injuries to Kobe Bryant (season-ending torn left Achilles’ tendon) and the Spurs’ relentless fronting inside.

Nonetheless, Cowherd still expressed skepticism D’Antoni would keep that philosophy intact.

“You’re obviously right,” Jackson said. “They picked the path to go on they think it’s the future of the NBA. We’ll see if it is.”

Yet, Jackson insists he’s not taking any satisfaction in seeing the Lakers unravel after passing him up for the head-coaching job.

“It bothers me about the individuals,” Jackson said. “It bothers me that Pau had a season where he had so much difficulty. Kobe had a season in which he had to struggle to help provide the scoring and push himself the limit where he eventually tore his Achilles. Whether that would happen or not playing 48 minutes in a duration of time, who knows. It bothers me that a guy that’s the level of Dwight Howard has looked human, less than human at times. It hasn’t really advanced their game. That’s the biggest thing about coaching. You want players to thrive. That’s your mission.”
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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@dailynews.com

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  • LakerTom

    Good morning, Mark. Phil just can’t resist zinging somebody. You have to admit as a Lakers journalist, Phil is always good for a headline or article or two or three. LOL. Stepping back a little, I do think Phil is no longer interested in coaching. I also think part of the Lakers front office decision not to bring Phil back was their sense that he wasn’t 100% committed to coaching. He seems more interested now in getting one of his former assistants a head coaching gig and Tex’s vaunted Triangle Offense another shot at winning NBA championships. It will be interesting to see if any owner is willing to give Phil the carte blanche he desires to give Brian Shaw or Kurt Rambis and the Triangle another run at glory.

    While you can’t question Phil’s standing as the greatest coach ever in the NBA, I find it interesting that his coaching disciples have not enjoyed the same level of success and acceptance that Greg Popovich’s former assistants have. Comparing the respective coaching trees of Jackson and
    Popovich, it’s obvious that Pop’s influence has been far more widespread than Phil’s. P.J. Carlisemo, Mike Brown, Vinny Del Negro, Doc Rivers, Avery Johnson, Monty Williams, and now Mike Budenholzer trace their roots back to Pops. Meanwhile, Phil Jackson’s coaching tree has been slow to grow, with only Kurt Rambis getting an unsuccessful shot at a head coaching gig with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

    So the question that begs answering is why has the NBA not embraced Phil Jackson’s assistant coaches the way they have those of Greg Popovich? Or Pat Riley or Larry Brown? Could it be that Phil surrounded himself with assistants who were comfortable remaining as assistants while Pops chose guys whom he knew had the chops and aspirations to become head coaches? Both coaches were notoriously loyal to and supportive of their assistant coaches. In the end, maybe Pops was more willing to take on ambitious assistants with stronger egos and opinions who could threaten a head coach’s rule whereas Phil wanted only guys who would stick to the course he set and not rock the boat. Be interested in your take.

    • Mark Medina

      Laker Tom – Interesting analysis, though I strongly disagree. Phil Jackson had an excellent coaching staff. In my experience talking with Phil’s assistants over the years, they publicly and privately marveled at how Phil let them do their job and valued their input. I think that the NBA has a whole has this dislike toward Phil because he has flaunted his success and has coached supremely talented players. That’s left his assistants with a hard time getting jobs. The ones who did have a shot such as Jim Cleamons and Kurt Rambis were hired to run the triangle but without the right personnel to run it with and they didn’t have a patient front office to realize that. Meanwhile, I’ve heard through the grape vine that as respected Brian Shaw is as a player, several front offices don’t like his interview approach and think that’s he’s trying to milk too much of his resume working with Phil. Plenty of these teams expect to be blown away in these interviews. A job interview is always important and if that case is true, then maybe he could prepare better. But you only have to look at the Mike Brown hire to know how misleading “impressive job interviews” can be. He wowed the Lakers front office with detailed notes and DVDs on his sets, etc. It all sounded well and good, but it’s a case of information overload and not being to apply it to reality. In fact, it may have been better to stick with Shaw because he would’ve just kept things simple.

      • LakerTom

        Mark, I did not mean to say that I thought Phil’s assistant coaches were not good assistant coaches. I’ve always believed that a head coach is only as good as his assistants and Phil’s and his assistants’ records speak for themselves.

        The issue could be re-stated that, while the assistants that Phil chose were outstanding assistant coaches, they did not have the charisma and leadership qualities that general managers were looking for in head coaches. That seems to me to be what has happened.

        Having assistant coaches who have the chops to someday become successful head coaches creates a different dynamic for a staff than having assistants who do a great job as assistants but lack the attributes needed to be a head coach. That to me was the difference between the way Pops and Phil viewed their staffs.

        Ironically, you would have expected Pops with his military background to surround himself with more Yes men and for Phil with his Zen approach to have a staff of free thinkers.

        • Mark Medina

          I disagree with that premise though. Phil had plenty of free thinkers. Tex Winter was one of them.

          • LakerTom

            Excellent point about Tex, Mark. But why then have Phil’s acolytes not become head coaches in the NBA like Pops disciples?

          • Mark Medina

            I think there’s a few reasons. There’s lots of skepticism on whether the triangle offense is a good fit for NBA teams. It’s not a “flashy” offense and it takes a while to teach. There also has to be investment in management picking up the right players that fit their system.

            There is also a widely held belief whether front offices want to admit it or not that as good of a coach Phil is, he also won because he had the top notch superior talent. The ract that Kurt Rambis and Jim Cleamons had losing records in their initial coaching gigs almost validates their belief that is the case. I’ve also heard specifically on Brian Shaw from other people that he hasn’t interviewed well. He’s honest and insightful but these front offices are expecting grandiose performances in the job interviews. Phil is also not well regarded in the coaching community. He’s respected for his success. But there’s also contempt for him partly because of resentment and partly because he’s never gotten close with other coaches and at times have xinged others in his profession (as you can see now w/ D’Antoni).