The time has finally come for Phil Jackson to retire to his roots in Montana. In what has been the most illustrious career of any NBA coach in history, the Zen Master will leave with at least 11 championship rings, having mentored some of the greatest players ever to grace the court.
Coach Jackson has declared this his "last stand" and looks to end his career with a 12th championship, completing an incredible four three-peats. And while it is obvious that his legacy is primed for even more success if the Los Angeles Lakers complete this task, it is a little unclear how the retirement of the spiritual force that drives this Lakers team has no effect on the mission at hand.
Phil Jackson's retirement does not negatively affect the Los Angeles Lakers, which is unusual. When there is a coaching change, there is usually a sense of turmoil surrounding a team, but this isn't a Lakers team that has a losing atmosphere.
This isn't a Lakers team that hasn't accomplished the things that their talent is expecting. This is a team that has won it all the past two years and a coach who has produced winning results throughout his career.
If anything, I would argue that Phil Jackson's retirement has a positive effect on this team. It almost seems like destiny, for Coach Jackson to finish with a nice even number of four three-peats...12 championships...12! It is a ridiculous number when you realize how difficult it truly is, in any sport, to not only become a champion, but to remain a champion.
And if you count his ring with the New York Knicks as a player, it comes to a grand total of thirteen. It only seems right for the Zen Master to finish with a number like 13.
I must admit though, that I have no clue whether numbers mean anything in Zen Buddhism, but for mere mortals like us, I like to think it means a little. I like to think it's the right number to rest your laurels on in a circumstance like this one.
Phil Jackson left the Chicago Bulls under similar circumstances when a lockout was looming. I know it's nice to try and sweep the eventual lockout under the rug because this season was so full of anticipation and because it feels like it's going to be a great ride, but the lockout is real. This time, there won't be a return to coaching for Jackson.
While all this would imply that the future of the Lakers is unsure, it certainly is not. I think the Lakers, more specifically Kobe Bryant, know exactly what's on the line.
Bryant also gets the chance to achieve the ultimate milestone of six career championships in three-peat fashion a la Michael J. Jordan.
Again, it just feels like destiny for Laker fans, and it feels like anything but a championship would be so unsatisfying, not only because it would mean losing, but because it would mean sending off the most decorated coach in NBA history in losing fashion.
Does this apply pressure on the team? Absolutely. Both players and coaches know what's at hand, and I think this team knows exactly how to handle pressure. The Lakers are primed to win it all this year, and even after this year.
Their core of players in Bryant, Fisher, Gasol, Odom and Bynum know the triangle inside and out, and having a longtime assistant in Brian Shaw who seems like the best fit to take over provides them with some stability, regardless of Jackson's departure.
That's not to say that he doesn't matter. Some say Jackson's been blessed to manage great players, but it's difficult to teach great players how to win, because you have to manage their egos as well. Some coaches don't matter. Great coaches do. Popovich matters. Sloan matters. Riley matters. Phil Jackson matters.
So even with the knowledge of his eventual departure, the Lakers remain title favorites. Even though the retirement of a longtime coach is always an awkward situation, Phil Jackson's retirement has no negative effect on the Lakers' three-peat chances.
It doesn't affect the team in design or effort or personnel. It only adds pressure. But like I said, the Lakers know how to deal with pressure. They are professionals in every sense of the word.
Winning the championship again this year, amidst all the hype and drama surrounding the offseason, would be the only respectable way to send out Phil Jackson. It is the only way. It has to be. I couldn't argue otherwise, because the three-peat feels like destiny.
Who are we to mess with destiny?