Why Phil Jackson May Never Earn Another Championship

In the pregame show called NBA Shoot Around on ESPN, just prior to tip off of game 2 between the Lakers and the Nuggets, Magic Johnson made the other guys on the set bust up in laughter when he looked at the camera and earnestly asked, “Andrew Bynum, are you going to wake up any time soon?”

That’s a good question. Here is another one:

Everyone keeps talking about how many technical fouls Kobe Bryant has acquired over the course of the playoffs, but what I want to know is why isn’t Phil Jackson fired up enough about his team’s erratic playoff performance to get a few?

In fact, the only Lakers who appear to care enough about winning to actually do anything about it are Kobe Bryant, Trevor Ariza and Shannon Brown. Occasionally Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom wake up and contribute as well, but why the Lakers can’t give a consistent effort on both ends of the floor for a full 48 minutes is harder to explain than Chris Anderson’s CHOOSING to look like this:.

Why?Why?

I don’t have a lot of time today, but I did want to briefly blog a few points that have been tumbling round in my head since last night’s game 2 matchup in Los Angeles between the Lakers and the Nuggets.

— The Coaches —

The sound bites ESPN gives us during the game are amazingly revelatory.

Remember back to those clips from videos documenting the Bulls championship years, and how passionate Phil Jackson was in time outs? “Don’t run away from your offense!” he would implore his Bulls, “It’s not time yet! Don’t do it!”

Today, Phil Jackson’s calm presentation to the Lakers during time outs sounds more like game observations made by an out of work coach sitting on the sidelines with a headphone set working as an in-game analyst. There is very little passion about Phil in his coaching style today, and it shows in the effort of his team. Phil is spot on with his analyisis, but seems to give his team nothing that is specifically calculated to motivate them to seriously make the adjustments he is describing.

Contrast that coaching style to the video clips of George Karl, “We’ve dug ourselves into a bit of a hole, but that’s alright. We’ve done this before and won, but we sure won’t if we keep playing this way….”

In a short clip, you can see George Karl assure his team, as Phil Jackson is trying to do I’m sure with his non-panic style, but Karl also manages to instruct and motivate in his huddles.

— The Players —

Have you noticed that, except for Kobe Bryant, the only time the Lakers seem worked up is when they are ticked off at the officials?

Does anyone else see that as really REALLY wrong?

If Michael Jordan‘s teams played this casually in the playoffs, he would have punched Steve Kerr twice by now, not to mention the entire rest of the team, the ball boys, the entire broadcast table and a good portion of the concessions staff.

Without question the Laker hurting his team the most is Andrew Bynum. Forgot his knee, Kobe Bryant was right about Bynum to begin with: this kid has no heart.

When he first came into the NBA, Andrew Bynum appeared content to be known as the youngest player in the League and did nothing to improve his game until Kobe called him out for his lack of work ethic. Then with Kobe demanding a trade and the spotlight squarely on Bynum, Drew suddenly got religion and worked on his game.

And Bynum’s admirable efforts continued right until about the time he secured a $50 million contract from the Lakers. That, and a couple of knee injuries later, and Bynum shows more energy pouting about the officiating than he does rebounding.

And just look at the Lakers bench: even Adam Morrison stands and cheers for his team, but Bynum just sits there looking bored.

And if you think Bynum was bad last night, just look at how he has played on the road during the playoffs. The Lakers would be better off with Kwame Brown; for all his mistakes, at least Brown gave effort.

During the broadcast of game 2, ESPN analysts Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson were criticizing the Nuggets in the first half for their “jog backs.” The Nuggets were just trotting back to the defensive side of the floor.

And while ESPN was showing a replay of Nene from the Nuggets casually trotting down the floor, illustrating it with shading and trapezoids, still Nene was well ahead of Andrew Bynum trotting back!

If you think Bynum gave a half-hearted effort last night in Los Angeles in front of the home fans, just wait for game 3. Bynum all but vanishes on the road. I haven’t given up on Bynum yet, but I definitely think he better wake up before he earns a reputation that will stick the rest of his career.

Imagine what this series would be like if Gasol were playing power forward instead of center.

Check the box score: the Nuggets aren’t even playing a center, they are playing two power forwards on the floor at the same time… and the Nuggets out rebounded the Lakers two by 2 rebounds.

Speaking of rebounds, it isn’t that the Lakers are casual about defense, they are casual about hustling, including on defense, and it shows in the rebounding as well.

In game 2, the Lakers started off with decent defensive effort, holding the Nuggets to 23 points in the first quarter, then they gave up 31 points in the second quarter.

Likewise, in rebounding, the Lakers were +4 in rebounds at the end of the first quarter, but were -7 in rebounds during the second quarter, and again, the Lakers ended the game -2 in rebounds.

Keep in mind that the Lakers had TWO 7-footers in the game most of this time. Gasol grabbed 9 rebounds in the first half, Bynum grabbed 2 for the entire game.

Bynum is lazy, pouty, immature, and is killing his team.

The real cure for Bynum is maturity: the guy needs to grow up and get to work. Until that happens, the next best thing is probably to call him out. Again.He needs to give effort. The Lakers can live with mistakes, what they can’t live with is what Bynum is doing to them now.

Two other Lakers killing their team are Sasha Vujacic and Derek Fisher. The pair combined to shoot 1 of 13, although they did play decent (though not outstanding) defense some of the time they were on the floor. I like these two guys, but with the way they are playing, clearly they don’t deserve their minutes, — especially not with Shannon Brown playing like he’s been in the triangle offense for years and with Jordan Farmar playing like he is back from the dead.

— The CURE —

If Phil Jackson wants his team to wake up and give 48 minutes of effort, it is going to have to start at the top with Jackson first. Maybe Phil can talk to Chauncey Billups, a spokesperson for Tahitian Noni Juice, about getting some Noni Juice in the gatorade cooler so the Zen Master and his team can keep their energy going all game.

Next, Phil needs to take his A.D.D. (attention deficit disorder / apathetic defensive determination) team and break that long, 48 minute game into pieces that his players can focus on.

The Lakers need to set 3 goals:

(1) Hold their opponents to 22 points or less every quarter

(2) Out rebound their opponents every quarter

(3) “Win” each quarter by scoring more than their opponents

By setting goals for each quarter instead of the game, the Lakers should be able to give a more consistent effort all game.

Then I would start Shannon Brown or Jordan Farmar instead of Derek Fisher, and let Fisher come off the bench fresh after watching Billups play a younger player awhile. Maybe Fish will be better prepared for the match up.

— Other game 2 observations —

__ Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals looked surprisingly like Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The home teams took care of business early on, but then let up defensively, and on offense both home teams overdribbled rather than moving the defense with passes.

__ The competition is officially too good now for the Lakers to take time off during games. They have to play both ends of the floor, and all 48 minutes of each game from here on out if they are serious about becoming champions.

__ I liked the chess match between Phil and George regarding player minutes in the fourth quarter. At the start of the fourth quarter, Kobe Bryant was still on the floor with no second half rest, as was Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups. Just as commentators Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson were talking about how these stars would likely play the rest of the game, Phil Jackson pulled out Bryant. An uneasiness settled over the Staples Center, including the broadcasting crew, but then Carmelo and Chauncey were sent to the bench for a rest as well.

__ Forget face guarding, Carmelo is more effective on Kobe using his size, physicality, strength and quickness than Battier was in the last series. Kobe seems to be wearing down.

— FINAL THOUGHT —

The best team to never win an NBA title has to be the 2003 – 2004 Los Angeles Lakers. That team had at least 5 future hall of famers (Shaquille O’Neal, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Gary Payton and Phil Jackson), yet it was humbled by the defense oriented Detroit Pistons.

There are a lot of similarities between that Lakers team, and Phil Jackson’s current Lakers… and by the way, those Pistons were led by none other than Chauncey Billups.

That also happens to be the first time Phil Jackson went to the Finals without winning a championship.

The next time a Phil Jackson coached team saw the NBA Finals, the favored Lakers were again humbled by a defense oriented team: the hungry Boston Celtics.

Both of Phil Jackson’s Finals defeats came at the hands of a defense oriented team, and came when he showed up with a team that wasn’t serious about defense.

What does THIS Lakers team look like to you? A team not always serious about defense? The Orlando Magic have the defensive player of the year, and the Cleveland Cavaliershave the best team defense in the NBA this year….

With the sole exception of a year when both Kobe and Shaq missed a significant amount of the regular season with injuries, whenever a Phil Jackson coached team has made it to the Finals, if that team played better defense in the regular season than its Finals opponent, Jackson’s teams have won.

If Jackson is unsuccessful at getting this group of Lakers to be serious about defense and rebounding, history says they will not have their photos taken with the Larry O’Brian trophy in June. Whether it is the Nuggets now, or the Cavs or the Magic later, the Lakers will likely be gone.

Defense wins championships, even for Phil Jackson.

Anyway, this is actually just a rough draft and I’m out of time otherwise I’d refine it better. Cheers!

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