The firing of Kurt Rambis on July 12 was hardly surprising. In an offseason filled with questions about whether there will even be a next season, the dismissal of a coach who led the Timberwolves to a 32-132 record in two years seemed appropriate. Rambis, though, was the last coach utilizing the triangle offense, and with his departure, the NBA, whenever it chooses to return, is now without the most successful offensive system the league has known.
Phil Jackson walked away on Sunday with an ironic smile on his face, seemingly placid and content, reminiscent of his comportment in 2004, when he hung it up for the first time, after his Lakers had collapsed like a cheap umbrella and lost the championship series in five games to the Detroit Pistons. If there's one thing we know about Jackson, he can read ... and in both instances he was able to decipher the handwriting on the wall.
LOS ANGELES -- Every training camp, Phil Jackson orders a drill in which his team has to make a combined 82 full-court layups within a span of two minutes. If the players need more time, they start over and do it again. Jackson rarely runs the drill during the season, lest he wear out veteran legs, but he dusted it off during a break in the playoffs last spring, and then watched the Lakers sprint to their second straight title.
BOSTON -- One more. Those were the words Paul Pierce repeated over and over, as he paced the Boston sideline in the final seconds of the Celtics' Game 5 victory. Indeed, Boston finds itself one win away from an improbable NBA championship after outlasting the Lakers 92-86 on Sunday.
One of those rare you-can't-make-this-stuff-up moments occurred in the bowels of the Staples Center an hour or so after the Lakers beat the Suns 103-101 in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference final last Thursday night. Phoenix guard Steve Nash was conducting a quick post-game interview in a congested hallway when a golf cart, stymied by camera wires and other mobile equipment, tried to get by but had to stop. Nash politely stepped to the side, his small smile turning wide when he saw that the passenger was none other than Lakers coach Phil Jackson. The moment suggested the unwashed multitudes making way for the pope. (Note to the literal-minded: Nash had showered and was even wearing a sport coat and tie.)
LOS ANGELES -- After 24 hours of soul searching and a lengthy practice and film session that ran an hour later than expected, the Lakers have identified the problem that developed last week in Oklahoma City: it's that they have a few problems.
That job is to serve as head coach of an NBA team. Good luck is needed to get one of those 30 positions, better luck is needed to keep it, and never mind trying to win a title. Only four active coaches have coached an NBA team to the championship: Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, Larry Brown and Doc Rivers.
Jonny Flynn knows what a triangle is. Ask him to draw it, no problem. Ask him to make one with his hands like Jay-Z. Easy. But ask the rookie point guard to run the triangle on the basketball court and well, let's just say that it's still a work in progress.
Over the next couple of weeks, those sounds you could be hearing throughout New England and the far-flung terrain of Celtics Nation are roiling stomachs, gnashing teeth and perhaps even full-throated howls. For if the Lakers subdue the Magic in the NBA Finals -- it says here that they will, though it will not be easy, and keep in mind that I picked the Lakers over the Celtics in 2008 so what do I know -- Phil Jackson will have surpassed the late Red Auerbach for most coaching championships won. Jackson 10, Red 9.
Steve Nash is multinational, multicultural and more of a participant than a spectator. Which is going to make it tough on him this spring to be on the outside looking in at the NBA playoffs for the first time since 2000.
For the most part, Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce traveled in separate circles on Sunday night in Game 2 of the NBA Finals at TD Banknorth Garden. (Motto: We may be named after a financial institution, but we still have parquet!) They matched up more frequently in last Thursday's Game 1, two streamlined sumos fighting for position in their dohyo just above the free throw line. But now, with just 25 seconds remaining and the Boston Celtics clinging to a two-point lead that had stood at 24 only seven minutes earlier, Bryant was the one called on to defend Pierce, who held the ball at the top of the key.
In Los Angeles all the loose objects in the country were collected, as if America had been tilted and everything that wasn't tightly screwed down had slid into Southern California. -- Saul Bellow, Seize the Day
Various midseason NBA report cards have already handed the Coach of the Year award to Phil Jackson, nods that seem wholly appropriate. Not only does Jackson have his Lakers on pace for more than 50 wins, but he's also doing it with a roster that shouldn't be playing this well, this soon.