Why Phil Jackson Would Be a Better Coach for the Miami Heat Than Pat Riley

It is All About the Zen

(This blog was originally posted on the Yahoo Contributor Network on June 16th, 2011. As of 7/31/14 YCN has taken down all of its content)

With respect to current Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, after the Heat loss in the NBA Finals, there are calls in the media for Pat Riley to take back the coaching reins. If Spoelstra is going to be replaced, Riley should stay where he is and he should do whatever it takes to bring in the Zen Master.

For years many critics of Phil Jackson pointed to the fact that he coached great players such as Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant and used that to minimize his accomplishments as a coach and question how good he was. Pat Riley coached a few good players himself in Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, James Worthy, Dwyane Wade and Patrick Ewing and yet Riley seemed to dodge the, “you were successful because of who you coached charge” to the level extolled upon Jackson.

Upon further review we see that whereas none of Jackson’s players won a title prior to his arrival, (talked about in more detail here), it was Riley’s Lakers who had won a championship before he arrived. Further, Riley lost in the playoffs to lower seeds several years in a row as head coach of the Miami Heat, including losing as a number one seed to a number eight, before he quit just before the 2003-4 season.

If a superstar player had a stretch that bad in the playoffs the media would suggest that it is and should be an indelible part of the player’s legacy. And so it should be with coach Riley.

However, many in the media have always liked Riley more than Jackson. Further, they conveniently leave out certain facts about the 2006 Miami Heat championship team that Riley coached after the Machiavellian maneuver he employed to replace coach Stan Van Gundy.

Riley lovers such ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser and Skip Bayless have repeatedly stated that Riley brought that Heat team over the top and that Stan Van could not have coached the team to a championship. Lets remember that Van Gundy brought the Heat to the conference finals in 2005.

What Bayless and Kornheiser leave out when they say Riley made the difference between the Heat losing in game seven of the conference finals in 05 and winning in 06 are two key facts.

  • One, Shaq was healthier in 06 than he was in 05. Maybe you can dismiss that one as “The Daddy” was already past his prime and it was D. Wade’s team.
  • Two, Bayless fawns over Wade’s game. Understandable, the man has skills and is clutch. Okay, in that 2005 conference finals, Wade got hurt and missed game 6, and played hobbled in game 7, and they still almost won this series!

When comparing Riley to Van Gundy and who could have done what with which team, don’t you think its fair to bring up those little tidbits? With a healthy Wade (and Shaq) the Heat beat Detroit, without a healthy Wade, the Heat do not win in 2006.

Back to the present. The biggest issue facing today’s Heat is the mind of Lebron James. Clearly he has the talent. Since the end of this year’s finals on Sunday there have been fair comparisons of Lebron to baseball’s Alex Rodriguez and what he went through trying to win a World Series with the New York Yankees.

Further, the calls for Lebron to see a sports psychologist, I think is a good idea. Despite what I said about Riley above, I do think he is a great coach, but he requires players with a thick skin who are on the same page and can withstand and thrive under his intensity. Riley is old school and I don’t think he is the man for the psychological mess Lebron appears to be. Further, James already gets fast break, “showtime” style basketball. It is when the game slows down and is in the half court that he needs help.

Contrary to Riley, the Zen Master, with his books, movies, meditations and alternative approach is what might help heal Lebron off the court and Jackson’s triangle, share and move without the ball offense, might be the thing that redeems him on it.

Jackson has led tormented superstars to the promised land three times. Jordan, Shaq, Kobe, and Kobe a second time after Shaq and Jackson left the Lakers and they fell off the map and failed to make the playoffs. It is a road Jackson has traveled and succeeded on over and over again, more so than Riley.

When they win, Pat still gets the credit for being the executive that brought all the talent together and for having the ego strength to bring in Jackson. For all the unrest in Heat land right now, imagine the instant calm that would ensue if it were announced that Phil Jackson was putting his fishing rod down and taking his Zen to South Beach.

Published by Jeff Schubert

Jeff Schubert is the Host/Executive Producer of the show Filmnut that airs on thestream.tv. Each webisode provides an in-depth interview about the making, marketing, or distribution of film, TV or new media…

Why LeBron James Should Take Less Than A Max Deal

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LeBron James has stated that in free agency this time around  he wants a maximum salary deal. On the one hand, LeBron is clearly worth max money. He is currently the best player in the NBA and he brings value to a franchise as far as chances of winning a championship and marketing. However, given the restrictions of the NBA salary cap and LBJ’s desire to accumulate rings and build on his legacy, LeBron should be among the first to take a cut in pay and not the last.

As the saying goes, there is no “I” in team. Good luck winning an NBA championship alone. Do elite players deserve to earn more? Of course they do. But three, four, five, ten, twenty times as much? No, they don’t. Not when it hurts the team’s chances of building a successful team because one or two players eat up so much money towards the cap.

The LeBron James’ of the world, the Kevin Durants, and Carmelo Anthonys, they stand to gain the most from winning a championship. Both from a legacy point of view, and from a financial, marketing and endorsement point of view. They should be the ones making the financial “sacrifice” to bring in the pieces necessary to win.  Not the other way around.

Recently it was reported that Michael Jordan’s net worth eclipsed one billion dollars. I don’t think former Bulls teammates, Horace Grant’s, Dennis Rodman’s or Toni Kukoc’s portfolio is anywhere close to that.

It’s not just his game, but the six rings Jordan’s teams won that have him spoken about (deservedly) as the greatest of all time and being on the Mount Rushmore of basketball. A place LeBron fancies himself being a part of.  The winning (along with his MJ’s charisma) provided the platform for his success outside of playing.

It was only his last few seasons with the Bulls that Jordan finally became the highest paid player.  Something he never made a fuss over or seemed to care much about.  True, he was under contract, however, he could have easily held out.  It is likely he saw the bigger picture.

Well, what is that worth to you LeBron? Sacrificing a few million a season off your playing salary now could mean:

  1. More money in endorsements
  2. Matching or surpassing Jordan in rings
  3. And a place on basketball’s Mount Rushmore later.

And by “sacrificing” a few million a season, you will still be making far more than most (if not all). And by winning more championships you’ll likely recoup that money in endorsements.

Star players shouldn’t think of taking less than a max deal as a sacrifice, rather as an investment that can pay monetary and personal dividends. LBJ took a little less to play with Miami these last four years; it is safe to say that investment paid off for him.

Today, Miami Heat President Pat Riley met and pitched Luol Deng. Deng is capable of being a key piece on a championship team. How much money is he going to make in endorsements if the Heat win again? Is he going to make the hall of fame? Be on Mt Rushmore some day? Cumulatively make money anywhere in the same zip code of LBJ? No, no, and no. So I don’t blame him if the report is true that he is not interested in taking a pay cut.

The other free agent players the Miami Heat were thinking about or have targeted, Kyle Lowry, Anthony Morrow, Trevor Ariza, etc. Who do you think the extra money is more important to?

Bill Wennington, B.J. Armstrong, Luc Longley, Craig Hodges, and Scott Williams. Any of these names ring bell? They are all also former players on Jordan’s Bulls team that won championships.

Ten years from now how many people are going to remember that Mario Chalmers was the point guard for the Heat? We know LeBron’s family is going to be fine in ten years, players like Chalmers need to get what they can now.

If a sub marquis players wants to take a pay cut to live in a certain city or because they like their current team and want to give them a home team discount, that is always up to them. And if they wants to do it to win a championship? Great. But there should never be pressure on these players to do it. Let the legacy chasers take the cut.

 

Correcting ESPN’s Colin Cowherd Again

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It this week’s edition of correcting ESPN’s Colin Cowherd, the subject is Los Angeles Laker coach Mike D’Antoni.  On his radio show simulcast on ESPNU, this past Monday, the Herd wanted to make the case that going forward D’Antoni was the wrong coach for Lakers.  And more specifically he’s wrong for Laker center and now free agent Dwight Howard.

This is a fair and debatable topic that I have no problem with.  I can understand both points of view.  In fact I recently wrote a blog that the Lakers, New York Knicks and Oklahoma City Thunder might be haunted by not hiring Phil Jackson.

durantanthonyI would also take Kevin Durant over Carmelo Anthony.  Doesn’t mean Anthony isn’t a great basketball player.

Where the Herd went wrong is when he went all “shock jock” and started talking out of his rear-end slamming D’Antoni.  His over the top rant was that D’Antoni always under performed as a head coach in the playoffs.

This is absurd.  Two minutes of fact checking disproves this.  There is no reason for The Herd not to know this.

So let’s look at the facts.  Mike D’Antoni inherited a terrible team, mid-season, when he was the coach of the Phoenix Suns.  He was 20-41 in 2003/04.  He went on to coach for four full seasons.  How did the Suns do in the playoffs in those years?

  • 2004-5:   They lose in the Western Conference Finals to the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs. (Who beat the defending champion Detroit Pistons.)
  • 2005-6: They lose in the Western Conference Finals to the higher seeded Dallas Mavericks.
  • 2006-7: They lose in the Western Conference Semi-Finals to the eventual NBA champion San Antonio Spurs.   This is the year where Robert Horry gave Steve Nash a cheap shot in front of Phoenix’s bench that led to some suspensions of player’s like Amar’e Stoudemire.  The Spurs also won a game in this series thanks to a Tim Duncan three-point shot sending the game into O.T.  Not exactly a failure of strategy.
  • 2007-8:  Lost in the first round to the higher seeded San Antonio Spurs.
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Robert Horry hip checks Steve Nash in the closing seconds of a playoff game where the outcome was no longer in doubt.

Saying D’Antoni always under performed because he primarily couldn’t get by Gregg Popovich and the Spurs dynasty is like saying Pat Riley under performed as head coach of the Knicks because NY couldn’t get past Phil Jackson and the Bulls.

Which series, specifically, did D’Antoni under perform Herd?  Hhmm??

Yes Colin, D’Antoni did have two-time MVP Steve Nash.  But not many would make the argument he was the best player in the game.  In fact many made the argument that Shaquille O’Neal deserved the MVP  one of those years.  But no doubt Nash was great.  You know who else is great Herd?  Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.

In New York, D’Antoni inherited a team that was in massive salary cap dump mode to clear room to try to lure Lebron James as a free agent.  Between roster turnover, injury, and the lockout, it is hard to slam D’Antoni for his one first round playoff loss to the Boston Celtics while in NY.

In L.A… He is hired after the start of the season.  So no training camp.  Pau Gasol misses significant time due to injury.  Steve Nash misses time due to injury including some playoff games.  Kobe Bryant misses the playoffs.  Dwight Howard isn’t fully recovered from back surgery, and tears a labrum in his shoulder.  Metta-World-Peace has knee surgery during the season.

This is just part of the Laker’s laundry list of things that went wrong this season.  And as a seventh seed they lose to D’Antoni’s old nemesis the San Antonio Spurs.  Is this a clear example of under performing?

Whether it is Phil Jackson or anyone else Herd, if you want to make a case for a different coach make it.  But don’t slander a coach and misrepresent the record.  You might be able to make a point about a D’Antoni team under performing in a season or two but always? Not even close.

And as I have stated when talking about your assaults on Michael Jordan when deifying Lebron James, you have three hours, five days a week, so you do have time to get stories right.

The reasons he doesn’t?   The choices are:

  • He and his production team are incompetent.
  • They’re negligent.
  • He has a vendetta against D’Antoni.
  • He is a shock jock for ratings and doesn’t care whose career or reputation he might hurt.

You’re good enough without this Colin.  You should clean it up.