We may have spent the weekend trying to figure out exactly what sort of title and power Pete Carroll will have over the Seahawks- we may still be trying to figure it out, actually- but while "total control" is a major buzz-phrase across sports, at least for one high profile guy, coaching is enough. Before last Friday's loss to the Clippers, Phil Jackson was asked if he'd ever want the sort of centralized control held by LAC coach/GM Mike Dunleavy.
"No," he said. "(General manager is) a very difficult job, and I'm thankful that I've never had to do that."
PJ's distaste for a role in upper management goes beyond the burden of clocking extra hours at the office. Even when he's done walking (metaphorically, for the most part, in his case) the sidelines, a management job isn't on Jackson's radar. "I have no interest in that. I don't want to have to deal with agents. I don't want to have to lie. Those are things you don't feel you want to do." Jackson quickly tried to soften a fairly harsh statement, likely because he didn't want to insult so nakedly GM's across the league (including his own, presumably).
"I don't want to just throw it out there, "lie," but you have to do (some) negotiating with truth a lot of times in that situation. I don't like that."
I asked Jackson whether or not he felt he could afford to be truthful because he's Phil Jackson. Zen master. Author. Ten freakin' rings. He didn't quite answer, but expanded on those moments where truth and reality can come into conflict in the management of players both as a coach and GM. “I just think it’s sometimes part of the job when you face a camera or when you face press and talk to players. There’s sometimes situations when a team has a player on the trading block and you know there’s always players coming in wondering why they’re not playing and somebody else is playing and the reason a guy is playing because they have to be showing that they’re healthy. All kind of things go on," he said.
But still, your Phil Jackson-ness must make it easier to be free to avoid lying to players, right? "Very possibly, that’s true, but I never felt very comfortable anyway on that level. It’s a hard thing to balance. I think if you start, you lose your credibility with the players."
The only lie to which Jackson would cop in regards to players? "I tell (players) they're better than they are," he smiled.
Derek Fisher agreed security plays a big role in honesty, when it comes to coaches being straight with players, noting as well that there's far more to coaching than drawing plays on the whiteboard. "It's not just basketball when you become a head coach, with the politics and things that you have to manage. Sometimes maybe younger coaches, or guys that have been an assistant all those years, you don't quite understand. All of a sudden they're in the mix of it and it's a difficult thing to do. I would like to think that good coaches, successful veteran coaches in particular, could always feel free to tell you what's going on."
He's always known Jackson to be honest.
"Oh yeah. I don't think he has any reason not to (tell the truth)," Fish said. " And if he, for whatever reason, had told a lie, it would almost be ahead of the truth. It's like there's some other reason why he's telling it to you, that's still truthful. Three or four steps ahead."
I'm sure there are players around the league who would question PJ's day-to-day honesty, or at the very least categorize the "games" he's famous for playing as a form if dishonesty, but at the same time there's no question in my mind he has the freedom to be forthright, and exercises it with frequency far greater than the average NBA coach. (Remember, what he tells the media and what he tells players are often not the same thing. Lying to us and lying to them aren't necessarily comparable.) It's rare now in pro sports for the coach to have as much power as players, but ten titles and a huge contract afford Jackson that luxury. He's not coaching for his job on a day in, day out basis, and the list of players powerful enough to force him out of town stands at one (Sasha Vujac-- Okay, I kid. Kobe Bryant), a moot point since Jackson and 24 are like peas and carrots these days.
Take the same Phil Jackson, though, with the same approach, beliefs, basketball philosophy, and talent, and make him a first or second year coach, and so much of that freedom goes away. He's less powerful than the guys he's coaching, and any struggles would make his unique approach to the game more liability than strength.
As to his point about the inherent conflict between the jobs of coach and GM, it gets to the heart of why so few people succeed in those combined roles, whether in basketball or across sports. Beyond the incredible demands on a person's time- add player evaluation, scouting, draft planning, payroll considerations, and more to the already complex matters of game prep and locker room management, there really are times a coach and GM have jobs in opposition to each other. It would be tough, for example, to work on contract negotiations, deal with agents, or work trade talks with players you coach as well.
Not that major things happen in the Lakers organization without Jackson's knowledge and at least tacit approval, but the separation of powers allows a certain amount of plausible deniability, separating coach from the more unsavory (read business-like) ends of the pro sports world.
Still, if you're curious how PJ would do as GM, I did float a little test of his trade skills. Would he have made the Gasol deal, too, had he been sitting in Mitch Kupchak's chair?
"Yes," he smirked. "I think so."
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