Los Angeles Lakers

Phil Jackson's Age: an Asset Or a Liability?

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 31:  Head coach Phil Jackson watches on with his player Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the game against the Charlotte Bobcats at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 31, 2009 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Daniel LockeContributor IMay 2, 2009

I want to start by saying that Phil Jackson is a great coach with tremendous success.  As a coach, Jackson has nine NBA Championships, 11 NBA Finals appearances, over 1,000 regular season wins and a career regular-season winning percentage higher than .700.  

Those numbers are incredible; to top it off, his current team is the number one seed in the Western Conference.  

But right now, as the playoffs unfold, one has to ask: is he an asset or a liability?

When one thinks of a top-notch coach, a coach who is breaking his back to get his team any edge he can, diagramming plays, watching film until three in the morning.  Does that sound like Phil Jackson?

Phil Jackson is sixty three years old.  He has coached over a thousand games and played for roughly ten seasons (not counting the season he sat out).

He makes $10,000,000 a year.  Let me just repeat that:  he easily makes more money than President Obama and any other NBA coach.  

And my question is: is Phil Jackson going to work as hard as Erik Spoelstra?  

Erik Speolstra is thirty eight years old.  This might be the only chance he gets to be an NBA head coach.  If he either messes up end-of-game situations, manages Dwayne Wade's minutes poorly, or doesn't notice a key matchup, he could get a reputation as a bad coach.

There are a hundred assistants in the league with gleaming records waiting for the next coach to get fired.  Maybe even one on the Heat's bench right now.  

Many coaches come and go quickly in the NBA.  

Avery Johnson won the Coach of the Year in 2006 for the Mavericks and owner Mark Cuban;  he was fired two years later and he is currently an ESPN analysit.  I am sure that Spoelstra knows this.

So who is working harder right now?  I mean right this instant as you read this.  Who is more likely to be working right now? 

Is Phil Jackson up at night anxiously watching film and poring over statistical breakdowns, or is Erik Spoelstra, a man whose job security depends on Pat Riley, Micky Arison, and sports journalists, desperately trying to figure out how to win game 7 between Atlanta and Miami?

I'm not saying that Coach Jackson isn't going to give it his all.  I'm saying that 100 percent from a 63-year-old multi-multi-millionaire isn't the same as 100 percent from a desperate 38-year-old coach.  Teams often take on the demeanor of their coaches.

Do the Lakers look like they are playing desperately to you?

There is also the subject of in-game management.  Might Phil Jackson miss a minor detail?  As the hundreds, nay thousands, of games he has coached and played in blend together, could he become simply less alert and tuned in to what is happening?  He does not look as engaged as Stan Van Gundy or Vinny del Negro.  

Consider this: on March 17th, 2009, the Sixers and Lakers played in L.A.  Los Angeles lost in the final seconds as Andre Iguodala hit a three-pointer over Trevor Ariza.  The Lakers had a foul to give and apparently discussed the right strategy at the end of the game.  

Ariza didn't foul and Iguodala made the three-pointer.  After the game coach Jackson said "I don't know if Trevor fully understood when I said we had a foul to use, because he did not use it." 

The last thing I will ask is this:  was it Ariza's fault, or was it Jackson's?  At first read I thought it was Trevor Ariza's, but is that correct?  Think about it. Whose fault was it?

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