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Winderman: Problem with Riley in Miami, Jackson in Orlando is they’re not coaching

Jun 6, 2012, 1:53 PM EDT

Miami Heat Introduce LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade Getty Images

We have reached a compelling intersection of what is and what could be. The fact that the protagonists are Pat Riley and Phil Jackson makes it all the more intriguing of a case study.

At the very moment when the Riley-as-front-office-sage approach is coming under fire 200 miles south on Florida’s Turnpike, there is increased clamor in Orlando about Phil Jackson possibly arriving to provide direction.

The lesson of the moment is the limitations of coaching greatness relocating to the out-of-view reaches of the front office.

Because at this very moment, perhaps even more than in 2006 when he stepped in as coach to lead the Heat to the franchise’s only championship, it can be argued that Riley has never been needed more on the Heat sideline.

At this point. For this upcoming game. To find a way to keep Doc Rivers from making coaching the central issue for why the Celtics advance and the Heat collapse.

Because for everything Erik Spoelstra has been in this Big Three remix, a championship-moment coach has not been one of them.

He simply lacks the rings. The rings Riley used to seduce LeBron James. The rings Jackson can use to leverage Rich DeVos into the type of riches that Jerry Buss simply would not consider.

Perhaps Jackson’s Zen ways will resonate from the Magic front office in a way that Riley’s driven disposition has not over this past week (have the Heat ever looked less like a Riley team?). Perhaps this is more than a money grab by Phil or an act of desperation from the desperate Magic.

But a great coach who is not coaching only serves to remind of what could have been, and what isn’t.

This is not to say Spoelstra is impotent. Riley, in fact, has kept his distance so as not to create appearances of usurping his coach’s influence.

But the more Riley has moved to the shadows, the less assured the approach on the sideline.

What Riley has been from the front office is a master recruiter, be it luring James or Chris Bosh, or getting supporting players to take less as free agents.

Phil Jackson would provide similar cachet. Perhaps Orlando no longer would come off as such a distant outpost to free agents.

But when considering the impact of all-time great coaches as front-office game-changers, consider one essential element:

They aren’t doing what they do best. They aren’t coaching.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at @IraHeatBeat.

  1. canehouse - Jun 6, 2012 at 2:09 PM

    No duh Ira….brilliant piece!

  2. deadeyedesign23 - Jun 6, 2012 at 2:13 PM

    If I had a nickel for every new paragraph in this article…

  3. j0esixpack - Jun 6, 2012 at 2:19 PM

    Jackson gets a bit too much credit as a coach.

    There’s a lot of coaches who would have had Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in their prime or Shaq and Kobe.

    What Riley, Jackson, or Rivers would probably be better at is slapping some sense into the Heat players who, like LeBron are “proud of their individual performance” or who think that “having a chance to win” is all fans are looking for.

    The Celtics “Big Three” all admit that in their younger, less mature, more selfish days of playing, bringing all three together might not have worked – but as battle tested veterans they take a proud team-first mentality.

    Even with the best coach, sometimes players still need to figure that out for themselves.

    • teambringitstrong - Jun 6, 2012 at 2:59 PM

      The most overused statement in the history of statements right up there with the race card and money card.

      If it was so easy to do it with great players, Boston would have run off 4 in a row, the Heat would be going for back to back rings.

    • 20dollardinners - Jun 7, 2012 at 1:25 AM

      Dude Phil Jackson has ELEVEN RINGS as a player and coach. How many does he have to win to get some respect?

      He is bar none the greatest coach of all time – period.

  4. cosmicatomic - Jun 6, 2012 at 2:27 PM

    Let the excuse-making and scapegoating begin.

    First head to roll: Erik Spoelstra.

    He forgot to remind LeBron to hustle back in transition and he forgot to tell Wade to quit stopping play to make his case to the officials. Oops! Riles would have remembered!

  5. 1972wasalongtimeago - Jun 6, 2012 at 2:30 PM

    Just read something I didn’t realize. There’s a Game 6 tomorrow night. And there may even be a Game 7 Saturday. Thought the last game was played last night. But no, look it up yourself, more games left.

  6. trubroncfan07 - Jun 6, 2012 at 3:13 PM

    Interesting article, I used to get the Jackson doubters, but now watching Kobe without Jackson for the past couple years goes to prove what a great coach he is.

    • therealhtj - Jun 6, 2012 at 3:23 PM

      Not taking anything away from Phil Jackson, but what are you babbling about? Jackson’s only been gone for this one year now. Kobe’s production is roughly the same. A less talented team had roughly the same result as last year’s Phil Jackson-led Lakers squad.

      I guest what I’m sayin’ is, “Ricky Henderson is missing your point.”

    • 1historian - Jun 6, 2012 at 10:09 PM


  7. rodge1 - Jun 6, 2012 at 5:03 PM

    Good coaches only do well with lesser-talented teams because there are less egos. Teams with stars and big egos only respect proven motivators with track records regardless of actual coaching abilities. For example, Stan Van Gundy was a great coach with the Heat and took a young Heat team to the playoffs… Until Shaq got there. Shaq didn’t respect Stan because he was a newer and unproven coach. Had nothing to do with his actual coaching abilities because Stan is a great ‘x’s and o’s coach. I don’t agree with this but it’s how it goes in ALL sports. That’s why some great coaches prefer college because coaching poor 18 year-olds is easier than coaching rich 20 year-olds.

    • 1972wasalongtimeago - Jun 6, 2012 at 9:12 PM

      Don’t know about you, but I was down and out after last night. Then, somewhere around 3 O’Clock today, I started thinking, “Hey. Cut the BS here! Win tomorrow night and shut all these A-Holes up. Bring it back down here, and make history” Totally attainable.

      Now Boston is expected to win. Things get a lot more tense when you’re expected to win. You get tight. 25 footers aren’t shot with their usual purity. Doubt starts to creep in. Tough to manage expectations. Boston, until now, has had none. Now they do.

      Indiana went up 2-1, and took a look down from the heights. Granted, Boston is in a far far higher class than Indiana, but they’re human. They’ll have spent 48 hours listening to how awesome they are. That’s when a talented team can steal a game.

      We’ll see. The 4th win is the toughest.

  8. ch8878 - Jun 6, 2012 at 5:54 PM

    Jackson doesn’t get any credit as a coach he was able to take some of the biggest egos ever and make it work for championships.

    Guys come there is no comparison sorry but Riley is no way as good as Phil, no one but Pat Summit and the old Detroit Redwings coach has anywhere near the rings Phil has in any sport of all time.

  9. lakerluver - Jun 6, 2012 at 7:34 PM

    Hey, jOesixpack, you need to lay off the six packs!! The criticism of Phil Jackson is old and tired. Nobody criticizes Red for winning with a roster full of Hall of Famers in Boston. And win Phil coached his teams to titles the NBA had more than 16 teams and the players weren’t wearing canvas Chucks.

  10. 1historian - Jun 6, 2012 at 10:18 PM

    Between 1991 and 1998 the Bulls won 6 titles in 8 seasons. Between season 1 and season 8 there was a turnover of 83% – 10 out of 12 players. The Bulls kept winning.

    Granted it doesn’t hurt when your remaining 17% are named Jordan and Pippen, but that is still a hell of an accomplishment. Phil Jackson was on the bench for all 8 of those seasons and to me that makes him the best coach in the last 50 years in any pro sport. That also means that the man who got all those people to Chicago – the despised Jerry Krause – is one of the all time GMs. Except for Jordan HE is the one who got ALL of those players AND coaches on ALL of those teams to Chicago.

    He operated on the simple premise that you build around your best player.

  11. 20dollardinners - Jun 7, 2012 at 1:29 AM

    It’s too late to save this season for the Heat. This is their challenge. They are so talented that in the regular season their isolation / hero ball works great, especially in a shortened season. But when the game slows down, the opposing defense is prepared for them and it’s the fourth quarter – all of a sudden you don’t know what to do.

    So you go to Lebron or Wade in catch and shoot mid to long range shots. That’s not their game and they are not going to consistently make those shots.

    They can only win if:
    1. They get lucky and hit the catch and shoot hero ball shot (25% chance)
    2. They go into the last 2 minutes with at least an 8 point lead

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