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Volume 70, Issue 147, Thursday, June 16, 2005

Sports

Jackson's Zen mastery may not work this time

Out of Bounds

Jordan Overturf

On Monday, Phil Jackson made the announcement that he will once again be head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. What does this mean? They threw $10 million (contract terms weren't released but that is believed to be his annual salary) down the drain -- at least for next season.

Not to put down Jackson and his stellar nine championships, but it's going to be difficult for Jackson to get those abysmal Lakers into the Western Conference Playoffs (they were 34-48 last season), much less contend for a championship. Even though Jackson boasts the NBA's highest career winning percentage (.725, a 832-316 record), he takes on a weaker team than the one he left at the end of last season.

Then there's this issue of reconciling with L.A.'s No.1 asset, Kobe Bryant. He is clearly the Lakers' best player and the only championship-caliber player on the roster.

Bryant and Jackson parted ways on seemingly bad terms -- in his book chronicling the 2003-04 Lakers, Jackson ripped Bryant many times -- meaning both will have to act like gentlemen and settle their differences. If conflict arises between the two of them again, it could be fatal in terms of the Lakers chances of future success. 

Also, the roster lacks a few things Jackson has grown accustomed to with the Lakers and Bulls of the past: multiple players who exhibit a degree of leadership, a strong supporting cast and a team that brings defensive intensity to the floor every night. Oh yeah, and Shaquille O'Neal is in Miami.

So without a dominant force in the post (or any viable big man for that matter) to ease the pressure on Bryant, and a team strapped by the salary cap leaving little room for moves, Jackson is facing a difficult task in trying to construct his 10th championship squad.

Former Boston Celtics head coach Red Auerbach, who shares the distinction of most championships for an NBA coach with the Zen master, has made it a point to criticize Jackson in years past. Auerbach has claimed many times that Jackson has had ready-made teams with superstars and he simply finished what others started.

That is an interesting argument, since Jackson had a certain Michael Jeffrey Jordan in Chicago and, of course, Bryant and O'Neal in L.A. However, if Jackson does win a championship with this squad, he will have had to build the team from the ground up and it would likely be his best coaching job ever.

I don't doubt Jackson's abilities, but the road ahead is going to be difficult. With multiple contenders in the West like San Antonio, Phoenix and Dallas, the Lakers have a lot of dirty work to do to become the dynasty they once were. And to assume that $10 million and a coaching change is all it's going to take is silly.
 

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