Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Phil Jackson's Whipping Boys

The other day, I read an article over at Order of the Court that explained why Scottie Pippen was so angry when Toni Kukoc got the last shot in the infamous "1.8 seconds" game against the Knicks. It got me wondering about one of Phil Jackson's coaching strategies that I feel has escaped scrutiny. Phil is a strong believer in treating his stars differently depending on their talent level, whether they seem to truly deserve that treatment or not.

In The Jordan Rules by Sam Smith, I recall reading how Phil Jackson made Horace Grant his whipping boy while taking it easy with Jordan. This strategy resulted in Horace Grant breaking down in tears late in the 1991 season during a game and wanting to go after Jackson. Horace left the Bulls after the 1994 season and was a key reason why Orlando beat the Bulls in that 1995 series, scoring 20+ 3 times in the first five games. While Horace and Phil later reconciled, I wonder if the Bulls 3-peat had Horace truly imploded in that 1991 game and forced a trade.

While I can't find any material about Jackson mistreating Pippen, I wonder if Pippen was so insecure due to many years of being in the #2 role. It seems that once Jackson places you somewhere in the pecking order he desires (#1 star above criticism, #2 or #3 star heavily scrutinized), he's not able to change it very easily. Which brings us to Kobe....

It's pretty clear by now that Jackson sided with O'Neal in the Bryant-O'Neal wars. Phil went so far as to make the charge that Kobe threw games in high school, and the book he wrote was intensely one-sided against Kobe. How many of Shaq's coaches say the job of coaching the petulant big man was "an experience I will cherish forever?" Phil's decision to establish a pecking order and choose sides was a critical, understated part in the fall of the Lakers dynasty. When the coach is not neutral, how can a team stay neutral?

Finally, on the present-day Lakers, we see that Jackson has been hard on Pau Gasol. Google "Phil Jackson Pau Gasol criticism" and you'll see a steady stream of jabs at his #2 star, or scroll down on this ESPN story about Phil. I have to wonder about Phil's coaching strategy. Laker fans, given the past history that I've described, do you see a possibility that Pau will rebel, and that the surprisingly good Laker chemistry of last season (given Artest) will be damaged? Or is Phil's philosophy of establishing a clear-cut hierarchy a key reason behind the championship rings?

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