LOS ANGELES - Phil Jackson had just finished yet another pointless group interview about his uncertain coaching future. It was Alvin Gentry's turn to meet with reporters in the hours before Jackson's Lakers blew out Gentry's Suns on Monday night.
The easy-going Gentry produced probably the most entertaining pregame head-coach interview in Western Conference finals history, candidly and generously handling a variety of issues — including applauding Steve Nash's counterpunch to Jackson's jab about Nash carrying the ball.
Nash had said: "The best coach in the league, Gregg Popovich, didn't have a problem with it last week." Gentry chuckled Monday night and said: "Steve had a nice little return." And then quietly, almost indiscernible to the microphone in front of him, Gentry noted the preposterousness of Jackson being less than Popovich: "Although it's not true."
Gentry also said about Jackson, with whom he shared Staples Center as Clippers coach while the Lakers were three-peating under Jackson: "Until someone has 11 rings, he should be allowed to say anything that he wants to say."
Well, let's amend that right now: Jackson should be allowed to get anything that he wants to get — whether that is the same $12 million salary he's getting now, the right to skip a few exhibition or regular-season road games under the guise of minor medical crisis or Jerry Buss taking down that ridiculous Vincent Van Gogh-style portrait of himself hanging above the mantel in his house and replacing it with a ridiculous Vincent Van Gogh-style portrait of Phil.
Jackson, 64, hasn't lost it. Everyone, including Jackson to some degree, was looking for a long winning streak late in the regular season, but the team's health didn't permit that ... so the Lakers have just gone and won seven consecutive playoff games instead to show they still respond to him.
Derek Fisher has already done enough this postseason to validate Jackson's apparent blind faith in him this season. Ron Artest had 14 points, five assists and no turnovers Monday night in yet another underpublicized recent contribution in Jackson's triangle offense. Lamar Odom, with 19 points and 19 rebounds to start the West finals, is saving his best for last in ultimate Jackson style – and Jackson's insistence is a huge reason Odom even got re-signed to stand here now while Andrew Bynum limps anew.
Kobe Bryant could probably coach the team himself — he pretty much assigned himself to Russell Westbrook in Round 1 and called a 20-second timeout when he needed one in Round 2 — but he certainly isn't going to. Brian Shaw might well be very able, but no one can really know. Kurt Rambis makes some sense, but he has a job already in Minnesota. Byron Scott has shown strengths, but also many weaknesses.
Imagine for a moment if someone else had been coaching the Lakers this season.
Consider how another coach might've Rudy Tomjanovich'd Bryant in pursuit of regular-season success and through overuse torpedoed Bryant's right knee entirely. Ponder who else could've possibly sided with Pau Gasol against Bryant in reminders to get the ball inside first. Think about how someone less proven would've panicked for change and put too much trust in Jordan Farmar or placed too many decisions on Shannon Brown.
And realize that there is no possible way the Lakers would be this calm and confident in navigating the always-choppy playoff waters without Captain Jackson.
The past 14 NBA titles have been split among only five coaches: Jackson has won seven, Popovich four and Larry Brown, Pat Riley and Doc Rivers one each. LeBron James' postseason failures after regular-season successes under Mike Brown only drive home the fact that playoff coaching is monumental.
Given Jackson's ongoing relationship with Jeanie Buss and his comfort in this zone at his advanced age, no one expects him to restart elsewhere, even if the most logical thing in the world would be proving his absolute pre-eminence in basketball history by turning Michael, Kobe and LeBron all from losers to winners.
James clearly needs someone who understands how to manage him through the daily grind, press firmly on psychological buttons without apparent malicious intent and provide just enough open-ended structure to ensure it's not going to be a one-overworked-man show.
Heck, we could all use someone to help manage our lives like that.
The Lakers are fortunate enough to have the best man for that job — and there frankly should be greater appreciation for him.
As ludicrous as it is to ask Jackson to take a pay cut, fortunately for the Lakers he could agree to it — or even if he wins another title, he might accept more championship bonus and less base salary — because the principle is greater than the penny to him.
But again, even he doesn't know for sure how he'll feel when it's decision time.
The shame of it is that the Lakers don't either.
PBT: After it looked like Paul George's heroics would sink the Heat in Game 1, LeBron James stunned Indiana with a layup as time expired to lift Miami in OT.
Check out some of the best images from the 2010 NBA finals.
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