Okay, let’s start off by saying that Phil Jackson will most likely not be winning the coach of the year award. This obviously has to do with Byron Scott coaching the New Orleans Hornets to the 2nd seed in a very deep Western Conference and how Doc Rivers turned around the Boston Celtics. But lets be honest, if I had Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce, I probably could have coached them to the best record (obviously this is a joke).
Phil Jackson has kept this team together through training camp, the injuries, and incorporating new players. Through all of this, the Lakers came out as the number one seed in the toughest Western Conference in years, potentially ever. Most people believed the Lakers would not even make the Playoffs back in October.
Lets all take a trip back to this past summer/training camp when the whole Kobe situation was going on. Phil was in Kobe’s corner and was the only one in the Laker’s organization who Kobe would trust at this time. Phil told Kobe to take a few days off from training camp to clear his head. After that time, he told Kobe that it was time for him to step up, forget all of the trade talk, and be the leader that this team needed.
Phil did an activity where the players stood up and said their names and something about themselves. Kobe stood up and said, “My name is Kobe Bryant and I want to win a Championship”. From that day on Kobe was a member of the team and he started to believe in the younger players and their development, especially Farmar and Bynum.
Phil Jackson guided this team through the troubles that was the Kobe debacle and made them closer as teammates and as people. The chemistry on this team began to grow, which has translated to better fluidity on the court. In blowout victories, the fans can repeatedly see the players laughing on the bench as the reserves finish off the game. Phil used his Zen Master ability to bring them closer together.
Even through all of these injuries, Phil kept the team together and led them to the best record in the Western Conference.
Lets just recap for a second… Lamar Odom missed the first 4 games of the season, Bynum only played 35 games, Gasol was around for only 27 games (injury and trade), Vlad Rad missed a significant amount of time, Luke was in and out of the lineup, Trevor Ariza has missed many games, and Chris Mihm missed most of the season yet again due to his ankle that will never heal. We also had Kwame Brown starting at center for a significant amount of time. Only Kobe, Fisher, and Farmar were able to play in every single game. Phil Jackson was able to put players in different positions and still make it work. I know the record was barley above .500 at that time, but it kept us in position to get the best seed for the Playoffs until everyone was healed.
We have also had new players come to our team at different occasions during the season. In November, we got Trevor Ariza for Maurice Evans and Brian Cook. Even though those two players were not that critical at the time, they were great teammates and Mo Evans was Bynum’s best friend on the team. People thought that would disrupt Bynum’s development, but Phil sat the team down before they played the Indiana Pacers that night and told them that the NBA was a business and trades occur when no one is expecting them.
In February, we got Pau Gasol for Kwame “the cakethrower” Brown and Javaris Crittenton. Pau came in right away and made a huge difference. He had 24 points and 12 rebounds against the Nets in his first game. Phil was able to teach Pau the triangle offense in such a short period. Obviously, this has to do with Pau being a smart basketball player. Phil was able to have Pau mesh with the team in such a short period. This is what a great coach does when new members arrive, even in the middle of the season.
During all of this, Phil Jackson has been able to lead this team into the playoffs feeling confident about themselves. These Lakers have been through a lot this season, but because of Phil Jackson’s coaching style and ability he was able to have them play as a team and make Kobe Bryant believe and trust in his teammates.
If Phil can just get these Lakers to keep playing at the level they have been and able to incorporate Bynum when and if he comes back, then Phil Jackson will get his 10th NBA Championship and pass Red Auerbach. I honestly believe that this season has been Phil’s best coaching job and he will show it during the Playoffs.