It's not earth shattering, but I love a good coaching story. Roland Lazenby's latest blog post has a good one, with plenty of Tex Winter insight as always, about a Phil Jackson adjustment that sparked a Laker win against Houston.
Houston center Yao Ming was killing the Lakers inside with eight blocked shots. And when Ming rested veteran backup Dikembe Mutombo blocked another three and punctuated each with the trademark wag of his finger. Unable to attack the basket effectively, the Lakers were dying.
Then Jackson started running screen and rolls with whomever Ming was guarding. Ming was forced to step out and defend, which moved him away from the basket.
The Houston center was reluctant to do that, which produced some open looks and helped convince him to step out more.
“We had to get him out from under that basket. He was destroying us,” Winter said.
Yet this is not the story of a simple in-game adjustment.
It’s about Jackson’s entire approach, which has been developing for years.
“He pulls some strange things out of the hat,” Winter admitted.
Jackson’s approach, however, resonates with the one public that really matters — his players. “It’s just his mannerisms, his conduct, the way he handles the team. Over the years, his teams have just responded to him more and more,” Winter said.
Long known for eschewing timeouts, Jackson has still somehow managed to become the master of managing them, making the most of a 20 or a full. “He stays calm, but he’s very firm and hard with his players. He gets in their faces at times,” Winter explained.
This face work is always done for effect and seldom is it the result of unrestrained anger or frustration.
Part of that comes from the way Jackson spends most of the timeout conferring with his assistants, then steps back with the team and delivers strong, clear messages for everyone.
“They seem to accept everything he says,” Winter added.
Even, as in the turbulence of the recent week, when Jackson offered particularly pointed remarks and criticism.
Jackson delivers his message without demeaning his players, Winter said. “The important thing is that he doesn’t destroy their confidence. So many coaches do that. It’s his demeanor, the way he handles people, the way he communicates what he wants done. He does this in a very positive manner, even in very stressful situations. Like I say, you have to be a Zen master in today’s game.”