Is Phil Jackson just plain lucky?

In the sense that he had a lot of talented players? Yes. But just having talented players doesn’t mean you can win with them. NBA is littered with teams full of talent that couldn’t win. Just ask this year’s Suns team.. they got swept in the first round and they had KD, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal. Ditto for the first seeded Bucks team last year.
Phil Jackson’s special quality was managing egos and implementing the triangle offense – an offense system that forced players to share the ball creating free flowing ball movement, which is the standard offense used today. But we have to look at what Phil had.
Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were starters on the 1989 Bulls but Doug Collins could not get them past the Pistons. Now, Doug Collins is a very good coach, and even Phil himself couldn’t get past the Pistons in 1990 when he took over, though he managed to take them to 7 games. The next season in 1991 was their breakthrough season where they finally got past the Pistons roadblock and Phil’s coaching and the triangle was a big part of it as it forced Jordan, Pippen, Grant and others to trust each other more rather than it just being the Jordan show as it was in the 80s.
However, with Kobe it becomes even more evident how great Phil was. In 1999, Del Harris had Shaq and Kobe both starting, and they ended up getting swept by a Duncan/Robinson Spurs team. The next year Phil takes over, and they both not only end up going to the Finals, but winning it all – 3 times in a row. 2003–2004 is when Kobe’s ego took over too much, although he led the team in scoring, he played too much hero ball and as a result caused Phil to quit and called Kobe ‘uncoachable’ – you will never hear NBA fans talk about this when Bron just had another coaching change because they want to protect Kobe’s legacy and hate on Bron.
In 2005 without Shaq and with Rudy Tomjanovich coaching (a HoF coach FYI), Kobe missed the playoffs in his prime. He then mended the fence with Phil Jackson and Phil came back on to coach the team. This time not only do they reach the playoffs, but they managed to get a 3–1 lead on a talented Suns team – only for it to collapse due to Kobe’s heroics once again. In Game 7 Kobe got tired of Phil saying he ball hogged too much, and then refused to shoot the ball in the second half out of spite. They lost that game and Kobe was outscored by Leandro Barbosa.
In 2008 after Kobe threatened to leave the Lakers, Gasol was traded for Kwame + Marc Gasol’s rights (fleeced the Grizzlies IMO) and the Lakers once again reached the Finals after Phil forced Kobe to buy into the triangle offense and share the ball more.
After 3 straight Finals trips and two consecutive championships, the Phil Jackson era came to an end in 2011 after the Lakers had an upset being swept by the Mavs who were having an unexpectedly great playoff run and who would later win the championship.
Phil’s ability to manage egos and implement an offense system that forced ball hogs like Jordan and Kobe to share the ball with others is indication of his greatness as a coach. It is very likely that without Phil, Jordan wouldn’t have won more than 1–2 rings at most, and Kobe would not have won any rings most likely.


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