While I admire Jackson as a coach, probably as much as anyone, you don’t have to fly to Montana to figure out why he won’t come back to the Lakers, not this season.
Like Jackson often quotes Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Phil Jackson’s personal journey was no different.
Phil Jackson started his coaching career near the bottom, coaching in Puerto Rico and coaching the CBA’s (Continental Basketball Association) Albany Patroons. There, he quickly transformed the Patroons into one of the best teams in the league. Wherever he has gone, Jackson has had success. And, his ability to quickly transform a team has become one of his trademarks.
After having to interview twice for the head coaching position with the Chicago Bulls, Phil Jackson got to coach some of the greatest teams in NBA history, teams featuring players like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman.
Since his somewhat bumpy beginning, Jackson has reeled off more championships than the legendary Red Auerbach. Jackson now has 11 championships as a coach; Auerbach finished his coaching career with 9, but went on to win 7 more as a general manager of the Boston Celtics.
In Jackson’s time with the Chicago Bulls, they won 6 titles in 8 years. The level of success Jackson achieved in Chicago, and later in L.A., seems to have made him weary about accepting other coaching positions.
The Bulls’ First Three-peat:
When the Los Angeles Lakers, led by Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, came calling in 1999, Jackson saw the potential to transform an easy 2nd round out in the Western Conference into a championship team. He did just that. In his first season, Jackson led the Lakers to the first of three consecutive championships.
After the 2000-2002 three-peat, Jackson stayed on for another run to the Finals in 2004 with Gary Payton and Karl Malone. The team was then dismantled through the trading of O’Neal and Payton, the departure of Derek Fisher, and the eventual retirement of Karl Malone. In 2005, the Lakers missed the playoffs for only the fifth time in franchise history, a fate these current Lakers may share if they cannot string more wins together.
Once Jackson completed his last tenure as Head Coach of the Lakers in 2004, most people figured that was it.
And, everyone knows that the main reason the Lakers were able to lure Phil Jackson back to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2005 was not the exuberant amount of money they paid him, but his close relationship with his now fiancé Jeanie Buss, daughter of Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss.
Three Finals trips and two championships—five total in L.A.—later, Jackson was summarily dismissed by the Lakers, who opted to hire former Coach of the Year Mike Brown. When that failed, they hired Mike D’Antoni. So far, the results have been mixed to put it mildly.
Over his illustrious career, Jackson has coached his teams to a .704 win percentage, the highest of all-time.
In his own words, Phil Jackson told TMZ sports, earlier this season, that his chances of coming back to coach “are slim and none probably.” The situation where Jackson considered coming back, before he was passed up for D’Antoni, “was happenstance.”
There are so many reasons why Jackson will not come back to the Lakers, this season. While the list could be much longer, here are three:
1) The Lakers disrespected Jackson by passing him over for Mike D’Antoni, even though, by all appearances, Jackson seemed willing to return to the Lakers. That in itself would need to be dealt with and smoothed over. After the “midnight coup” as he called it, Jackson took the high road, saying “there was never anything that was unfair.” But, Jackson still deserves a brief, yet sincere, apology.
2) Jackson’s legacy could be damaged. Although I do not claim to be a mind reader, Jackson is probably as excited to return as coach of the Lakers, as he would be to coach the current Chicago Bulls without a healthy Derrick Rose. There is no way Jackson is meditating in Montana, hoping in the back of his mind he gets a phone call from the 24-27 L.A. Lakers. The Lakers have lost so many games and so much confidence this season, it seems a distant hope that Jackson would comeback, only to lead this team to an early playoff exit.
3) The Lakers management did not seem too excited to fulfill Phil’s wish list for returning, which included more money, a stake in the Lakers organization, some input on personnel decisions, and an assistant who could coach the road games.
And, you can bet that if Phil Jackson returns to the Lakers, he will want a team that can contend for a title. Jackson’s interest in returning will say a tremendous amount about how good he thinks these Lakers can be.
So, while the Lakers fans are waiting to, “Bring back Phil,” they may be waiting in vain.