May 19, 2010, 1:19 PM EDT
Phil Jackson’s team is once again peaking right as it heads deep into the playoffs. Again. Why does this surprise us? Sure, there were the injuries and the ugly last couple weeks of the regular season for the Lakers, but we should have all seen that. We should have known better. History has shown us time and again Jackson knows how to get players ready to perform their best on the biggest stages.
LeBron James could use that.
We don’t really know how badly LeBron’s elbow was bothering him. Or how much his teammates play was bothering him. What we know is that for two straight years the Cavaliers fell short. And by extension, James has fallen short.
James and this team have not come through on the big stage. Jackson’s teams do. That led Kevin Ding (best of the Lakers beat writers, for my money) to talk about how LeBron could use Jackson.
James clearly needs someone who understands how to manage him through the daily grind, press firmly on psychological buttons without apparent malicious intent and provide just enough open-ended structure to ensure it’s not going to be a one-overworked-man show.
Jackson’s teams respond when it matters because he teaches them to grow, he teaches them self-reliance. Lakers fans scream at their televisions in December when Jackson sits passively while his team flounders against Memphis or keep turning the ball over in Philadelphia. Jackson wants his players to figure it out for themselves. No timeout to bail them out. No substitutions. You determine your own fate.
It’s more than that, it’s psychological efforts to get the team to understand itself all season long, that is just the most visible part of it. But players beat drums and meditate as a unit. Call it mumbo jumbo. Call it BS if you want. You have to call it successful. A lot of other coaches have had talent and not won with it — including in LA and Chicago before he got there.
He could do the same with LeBron. But he won’t.
Sure, Jackson has no deal for next year right now, he is a free agent too. The media keeps asking and prodding Jackson about what he is going to do next, then read the tea leaves about what he said. But as Ding notes it’s all a big waste of time. And he is not leaving LA right now.
The reason these media sessions with Jackson about his future are so pointless is that he doesn’t even know himself what he’ll do. He honestly puts off deep thinking on the issue until after it’s over and he can take stock of everything. According to those close to him, though, there is no reason to believe he is ready to stop doing what he does so well when he feels so fine.
Given Jackson’s ongoing relationship with Jeanie Buss and his comfort in this zone at his advanced age, no one expects him to restart elsewhere, even if the most logical thing in the world would be proving his absolute pre-eminence in basketball history by turning Michael, Kobe and LeBron all from losers to winners.
Plus, who else is going to pay $12 million a year for all that mumbo jumbo? That much money to go against the Midwestern sensibilities of Cleveland or Chicago?
Only in LA.
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