PHIL’S COMING BACK: While it still seems that he’s not coming back to completely open arms [especially in the fan community], he’s back. It is a move that is both surprising...yet non-Earth shattering. Since Rudy T quit mid-season...Jackson’s name has been on the tip of the tongue of Laker fans. And though there were some slow dances made with the Knicks and Cavaliers...it was thought that the Laker job was too high a priority for him.
What is surprising is that it even was considered. Just one year ago, the Lakers unceremoniously showed Phil the door. The coach who has coached 9 NBA champions and finalized the Lakers rebuilding into champs...was basically told he wasn’t needed anymore. Everyone knows that Phil said he wouldn’t coach the Lakers if Kobe was still around [something, remember, that was in question late last season].
Then came the book. In what could be seen as the biggest strike against Phil, the book is the thing that sticks in my crawl. During the Lakers tumultuous 2003-2004 season, Phil was jotting down notes for what would become his best selling book. The book essentially slammed Kobe, labeling him "un-coachable". And while hands have been shaken and hugs have been given...it is hard for a locker room to trust a guy that has shown he can sell you out in a second.
CHECK THE EGOS AT THE DOOR: While both Kobe and Phil have had to suck in their pride to get this far....they still have to put some sort of trust in each other to get anything done. Phil’s pride took a big hit when the "Kobe or me" ultimatum was answered with a resounding "not you". Kobe’s ego took a hit when he carried his team to a last place finish in the Pacific and his first season without postseason play.
Of course, egos will remain somewhat. Phil gets to ride in on a white horse after leaving a team with a Western Conference Championship and into a broken mess.....all while he was gone. Kobe will have the knowledge that Phil will HAVE to kiss his butt since Kobe is undeniably the man of the franchise....and we all know that Kobe ain’t goin’ nowhere.
But, respect must be given to these two. Phil not only is coming back to a team that he had a messy divorce with....he’s also taking over a team that is a ways away from contending. The biggest knock on Jackson’s career is that he took over teams on the brink of being great. He got Chicago over the hump. He got Los Angeles over the hump. This team’s "hump" would be just to get into the playoffs. Of course, both Kobe and Phil get to feel like they are bigger men for getting a truce together.
REALISTIC GOALS: This team won’t contend for any titles soon...especially with this roster. But, the Lakers aren’t paying Phil Jackson this kind of money to aid in getting LA merely back into the playoffs. It is quite safe to say that Dr. Buss’ investment in Phil will mean there will be some roster movement. They have the #10 pick and a couple of tradeable pieces [especially to teams that need salary cap space]. The Carlos Boozer deal may be looked at again. They may bring in some mid-level free agents. The Lakers, with Phil, look sexy again...especially if they are convincing in their pitches that they are really a cohesive unit again.
But, like Phil said, I’d be amazed if this team grabbed a title [Phil’s tenth] in the length of his 3-year deal. However, sometimes you just can’t be the homecoming king...but you just want to get into the dance.
SHAQ ATTACK: When interviewed about the Phil-Kobe reuniting, Shaquille O’Neal wished Phil the best and said he’d "watch it unfold" like everyone else. When asked if there could be any way that Shaq would reunited with Kobe Bryant....Shaq answered "who?"
C’mon, Shaq. No one asks that you like Kobe. No one asks that you ever play together with him. I mean, it is quite fine if you hate him. But this kind of childish ignorance has made you look like a big oaf. "Uh, I don’t recall ever knowing a Kobe Bryant when I played in LA for 8 years." What is that? A simple "no" would have been fine. Even a stern "there is no way on Earth that I’d ever be Kobe’s teammate again" would have been acceptable. But "who"??
Maybe someday soon, the media will figure this crap out and just leave it alone. Or else we get subjected to Shaq’s jealousy.
SPORTZ TAKE: Will this work? I think so. But not to the expectations that were laid out in Phil’s first 5 years in LA. And while it sucks to hear "it’s not about winning titles"...it is nice to hear that everyone is grounded. This was a 34-48 team last year...and THAT is unacceptable. If Phil can get this team to work together....make a playoff run...and, sure, get knocked out in the playoffs....that would please me so much more than not bearing to watch the final month of the season.
The first year will be key.