Friday, October 29, 2010

Coach K and Phil: Chapter 2

At this rate, I'll finish this analysis in November of 2011. Chapters 2 of the The Gold Standard and The Last Season begin to show two things. The first is that Coach K's path to Beijing and Phil Jackson's road to the 2004 finals could not have been more different. The second thing it shows is that Coach K and Phil Jackson's teaching styles aren't as different as people tend to think.

Not just a student of the game, but also of history in general, Coach K made it a point to make sure the Redeem Team knew where USA Basketball had been before the failure of 2004.  Having been a member of the 1992 Dream Team coaching staff, as well as head coach of the 1990 World Championships team, K was the perfect man to analyze where USA basketball had gone since the Dream Team.  More importantly he had an excellent understanding of how the rest of the world had developed since Barcelona.  In essence, leading up to the 2008 games, Coach K did his best to do everything in the exact opposite way the 2004 team was brought together.  The majority of the team played together for 2006, 2007 and 2008 unlike to 2004 team that was slapped together a few months before the Athens games.  Only one member from the 2002 World Championship team that finished fifth (Shawn Marion) and only three players from 2003 FIBA Tournament of the Americas were on the 2004 Athens team (Tim Duncan, Richard Jefferson and Allen Iverson).  That means there were players from the 2004 team on the 2008 team then there were players from 2002 on the 2004 team (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Carlos Boozer).

Fast forward to the first game of the 2008 games against China, and everything seemed to go right for Coach K and the Redeem Team.  Everyone was healthy, everyone was getting along.  Things seemed to be going so well that I almost wish I were comparing and contrasting what went wrong for the 2003-2004 Lakers and the 2004 Athens team.  Unfortunately, Larry Brown hasn't written that book yet.

Meanwhile, Chapter 2 of The Last Season takes us through Laker training camp and preseason.  You're not going to believe this, but this chapter didn't start with a story of Kobe being angry at Shaq.  That's because Kobe was a no show at the beginning of training camp.  Publicly, the Lakers were fine with Kobe missing the beginning of camp because he was "ill".  But privately, Phil was sure that blow up between him and Kobe was coming.  We'll come back to this.

What I wanted to focus on more was Phil Jackson and his attempts to control the on the court aspects of his job.  Phil spends quite a bit of time talking about who is on the Lakers this year and what's he's expecting from them.  Did you know that the '03-'04 Lakers had 8 new players?  Chemistry would certainly would be an issue Kobe and Shaq not withstanding.  I enjoyed Phil going over what he thought the new faces and role players brought to the table.  A lot has been said and written about Phil as someone who handles egos and personalities well, but is very laissez faire when it comes to what his team does on the court.  Chapter 2 gives me the impression this couldn't be farther from the truth.

Chapter 2 is where you also you see some outside variables play a part in the Lakers season.  Kobe's contract status was up in the air. Phil's contract status was up in the air.  Phil tried to empathize with Kobe on his contract situation but at the same admonished Kobe for making his public declaration to explore free agency during the preseason.

 "I what Kobe is thinking.  Yesterday he reiterated his intention to opt out of his contract and become and unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.  I would never oppose a player's decision to explore his true market value-if only the players in my era had been granted that similar freedom-but I do question his sense of timing."

Phil goes on to say that Kobe is being treated amazingly well despite the Eagle, CO charges looming over everyone and Kobe is doing nothing to show his appreciation to the organization for that treatment.  The Lakers ended up 3-5 in preseason, something Phil does not seem worried about.  What's more concerning for him is the fact that Shaq and Kobe have again taken to the media to trade shots at one another.  Often times Phil would take Shaq aside and let Mitch Kupchak handle Kobe.  The difference between the two of Phil says, is:

"Ask Shaq to do something and he'll say 'No, I don't want to do that' but after a little pouting he will do it. Ask Kobe and he'll say, 'okay' and then he will do whatever he wants"

 The regular season hadn't started and Phil was dealing with more challenges and drama in a few months then Coach K dealt with in 3 years.  To be continued...

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