From NBA.com staff reports
Since being passed over for the Lakers’ coaching gig after Mike Brown was fired five games into the season, ex-Lakers coach and Hall of Famer Phil Jackson has kept a relatively low profile. Other than an “interview” with TMZ.com as he left a restaurant and another brief one with Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com, the Zen Master hasn’t had much to say about the Lakers, his future or his health.
SI.com’s Jack McCallum caught up with the 67-year-old coach, who won 11 titles combined with the Bulls and Lakers, for a story running in this week’s edition of Sports Illustrated. McCallum revealed a few choice quotes from Jackson that didn’t make the magazine, including some on how the Lakers are using Dwight Howard, his work as a consultant for a handful of NBA teams (though Jackson wouldn’t reveal which ones) and how zone defense has changed the NBA game.
Jackson on his consultant work:
SI: Do you watch a lot of games? Do you have the NBA package?
Phil Jackson: I just got it last week at Jeannie’s insistence. She didn’t want people thinking that her boyfriend is so poor he can’t get all the NBA channels.
SI: Do you take notes in case, you know, future jobs arise?
Jackson: I sometimes take notes. I have some people who have come to me and ask, “Would you watch my team, see if you can pick anything up?” Four or five teams, plus the Lakers. [He wouldn’t identify the other teams.] So while I’m not officially in the consulting business, it might come in handy sometime.
Jackson on zone defense and what’s wrong with the Lakers:
SI: How does the game look to you? Similar from team to team?
Jackson: Yes. Basketball is a simple game. Your goal is penetration, get the ball close to the basket, and there are three ways to do that. Pass, dribble and offensive rebound.
The easiest one is — or should be — the pass. But the new rules allow you to throw more people at post-up players. NBA basketball is a big man’s game, and in the past they protected that aspect of the game. Well, those rules went out the window and what they didn’t do was consider this: If they’re going to continue to allow zone defenses to work and shut down the paint, then they have to put six more seconds on the shot clock. A 30-second clock. But they’re so attached to the idea of the 24-second clock that it doesn’t happen.
SI: Did you bring it up when you were coaching?
Jackson: All the time, all the time. But general managers always dominated those competition committees. Anyway, it [allowing limited zones] has eliminated some of the post passing and made dribbling a major part of our game. As a result, I think people forgot that there are still ways you can get the ball inside rather than just standing there and throwing the ball in. You have to have a system that makes all things work. Pop [San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich] has that.
SI: How would you describe that system?
Jackson: Popovich made significant growth 10 years ago or so after David Robinson left. It had been pretty stilted. You know, two big guys. A lot of stuff he does represents the triangle offense. They flow into it a different way. Strong-side triangle. Pinch-post action. Some of it may have come about because we were going at each other all the time in the playoffs and he had to defend against it.
SI: When you look at the Lakers now, considering that they’ve had a lot of personnel changes and injuries, what do you see?
Jackson: They just don’t put the ball in the post. They’ll use a screen-roll to get the guy in the post. But there’s no consistent plan to do it. Yes, Kobe will go in there. But Dwight [Howard] just doesn’t get any touches. They’ve basically eliminated his assets.
SI: But wouldn’t his assets be rolling off the screen-roll, with either [Steve] Nash or Kobe?
Jackson: You want the ball 10 feet away from the basket. Throw it into the post, make them double-team and have everybody around to make shots. That’s what Shaq could do. That’s where you have the Robert Horrys, the Derek Fishers and the Rick Foxes sitting out there getting wide-open jumpers.
SI: But Dwight is not Shaq in that aspect of the game, drawing the double team and finding people. Isn’t that true?
Jackson: I think he can be. But he is not where he needs to be physically because of the back surgery. He needs a year to recover from something like that. He’s starting to come around, but he has a massive upper body to carry around. He’s a terrific athlete, but he still has to get all that back. He’s looking better all the time, but his problem right now is turnovers. He’s got to have a little better recognition, and that will help him gain the confidence of his teammates and coach, which he does not have now.
Jackson on his future as a coach or front-office type:
SI: There’s little doubt you had a good run in this town, even after not winning it in, say, 2004, which may have been your toughest season, the one when Karl Malone and Gary Payton joined on.
Jackson: I did have a good run. There were always people who didn’t like the triangle, thought it was too methodical, too unlike Showtime. But I was always astonished about how well I was treated. When I came back [in 2005] and took the job, people actually thanked me. They didn’t say, “Good luck.” They said “Thank you.” I never forgot that.
SI: The $12 million question — and I’m just throwing out a number — is: Are you going to coach in the NBA again?
Jackson: I’m not coaching. I told Mitch [Kupchak, Lakers GM] that back in October. So when we sat down in November [to talk about taking over after Mike Brown was fired], he brought that up and I said, “Well, this isn’t about moving or going somewhere else and learning new players. It’s different. So I’m ready to think about coming back, but I still have to think about it.”
But I do hold out the idea that there’s still influence in the game I could have. Red Auerbach, Pete Newell, Wayne Embry, guys like that have had … a number of people have had considerable influence and haven’t been coaches per se.
SI: So … a GM job?
Jackson: I don’t like that term. Vice president of basketball operations/director of player personnel is more like it.
SI: Vice president … that doesn’t sound like the boss, but the guy who would report to the owner.
Jackson: No, that guy would be the boss. He would be the president of the organization.
Jackson on his health:
SI: How is your physical condition? [Jackson has had two hip replacements and one knee replacement.]
Jackson: Working out, rehabbing is almost like a job. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, several hours a day.