Why Lakers Need Phil Jackson's Leadership and System, Not His Game Management

Kelly Scaletta@@KellyScalettaFeatured ColumnistNovember 11, 2012

EL SEGUNDO, CA - MAY 11:  Phil Jackson, coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, speaks during his last official Lakers news conference at the team's training facility on May 11, 2011 in El Segundo, California. The Lakers were swept out of their best of seven series with the Dallas Mavericks four games to none. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers and Phil Jackson are on the cusp of reaching an agreement, but there are some stipulations regarding Jackson limiting the number of road games he would travel to. The Lakers would be well-advised to take that deal, as they need Jackson's big-picture management more than his in-game management. 

ESPN's Chris Broussard reports:

When Phil Jackson met with Los Angeles Lakers executive vice president Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak on Saturday, he asked for travel restrictions, a salary in line with what he previously earned with the Lakers and significantly more say over basketball decisions, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

The travel restrictions would limit the number of road games Jackson would have to attend, a source told ESPN.

Two things to focus on here are "significantly more say in basketball decisions" and "travel restrictions."

The first is far more meaningful than the second. Los Angeles is a veteran team, particularly among the starters. The young fella among the starting five, Dwight Howard, is "only" in his eighth year in the NBA. Missing Jackson's in-game management for a few games on the road is not a huge deal, especially if the first criterion is met. 

The real issue here is whether Jackson will be allowed to run the team the way he wants to run it and add the personnel he wants to when he's absent.

The Lakers don't need a full-fledged head coach to manage games. Bernie Bickerstaff did a fine job in the first game since Mike Brown was fired, and he will continue to do so. 

What the Lakers really need is a cogent, less discombobulated offense, a figure as head coach whom the players have genuine respect for and someone who has shown that he understands how to adjust his system to the players he has. 

Jackson meets all of those points more than any person in the league. Nothing commands respect like 11 championship rings. 

Jackson has also shown flexibility in adapting his system to his roster. Technically, he won with two teams, but in many ways he won with four. 

When Jackson won his first three rings with the Bulls, he had Horace Grant, a bona fide post scorer, to complement Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. During his second "three-peat" in Chicago, Grant was replaced with Dennis Rodman, a great defensive player and rebounder who offered almost nothing in scoring. 

In Los Angeles, Jackson's first three rings centered around the most dominant big man in the game in Shaquille O'Neal. During his second two, he had another dominant big man in Pau Gasol, who scored in very different ways. 

What's interesting about Jackson is that while it's true he's been blessed to have so many great players to coach, he's been able to adjust the system to fit the players rather than try and shoehorn players into his system. 

The Lakers have the players. That's not an issue.

What the Lakers need now is a system that utilizes their players the best, not one that tries to reinvent their Hall of Fame careers. Jackson is the perfect man for the job, and that is something that doesn't require extensive travel—but it does require that he has the control of the team he wants. 

So who would coach the Lakers while they're on the road? One possibility would be Bickerstaff. Another would be Scottie Pippen (cue record scratch). That's right, Scottie Pippen. According to Mitch Lawrence of the Los Angeles Daily News, "Jackson is looking at adding Scottie Pippen, his former Chicago Bulls star, to his staff."

Combine that nugget with this blurb from Broussard's piece:

Should Jackson return to the Lakers, league sources feel he would be interested in bringing along an assistant coach or associate head coach whom he could groom to be his successor. Jackson feels like he owes much of his success to his longtime consultant Tex Winter, the architect of the Triangle offense, and he would like to pay it forward to another young coach.  

Add that to this recent ESPN report that Pippen wants to be a head coach, and you have enough dots to draw a straight line.

It's not all that silly if you think about it. Pippen was always a player who showed a high basketball IQ, he knows the triangle offense and has the relationship with Jackson. 

Most importantly, he doesn't have any coaching experience, which, if Jackson is looking to mentor someone, is a plus. He doesn't have to worry about conflicting ideologies. Pippen is a clean slate. 

If Jackson can run the practices, impose his system and have his protege to coach the team in the few road games where he doesn't visit, it could be the best of both worlds for the Lakers. They'd have the coach for now and the coach of the future to run Jackson's system once Jackson inevitably grows bored again.