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Phil Jackson does nothing very well

T.J. SIMERS

Does the Lakers coach really do nothing, or is he just great at making it look that way?

June 12, 2009|T.J. SIMERS

FROM ORLANDO, FLA. — We probably won't know who has been actually coaching the Lakers this series until Phil's next book is published.

Right now the best we can do is offer congrats to Coach Phil & Coach Kobe and thanks to the Magic for playing as if it has never been coached to win a big game.

The guy coaching the Magic was so outclassed against the likes of Coaches Phil & Kobe, he was playing a rusty Jameer Nelson with the game on the line.

If the guy's not coaching a YMCA team next season, he might want to instruct Nelson not to sag on a three-point shooter like Derek Fisher when leading by three.

As for the Lakers, it's very confusing at times who is in charge around here, especially the way Kobe has been playing.

Sometimes he's working his teammates into the game, sometimes taking on the Magic all by himself and whatever -- usually a surprise to Phil which way it's going to go.

Phil has mentioned it several times, beginning with his pre-fourth quarter interview with ABC's Doris Burke in Game 1 after Kobe exploded for 18 points, suggesting it was time for Kobe to involve his teammates.

So I asked Phil if Kobe has been uncoachable at times in this series, knowing Phil's gone there before in print.

I got an abrupt "no" from Phil, so I read to him something veteran NBA player Alonzo Mourning had said in a national conference call a day earlier.

"I think Phil is just showing up, to tell you the truth, and Kobe is doing all the work to make this team successful."

Jackson's response: "That's a pretty good assessment from a guy who played 15 years or so in the NBA."

It sounded as if he was seconding Mourning's remarks, but to be sure, I asked, "Do you buy it?"

"Kobe is doing a lot of the work," Phil said. "I'm just kind of sitting on my chair."

And everyone in the room laughed.

If Kobe is coaching the Lakers, I just don't see him having Farmar, Vujacic, Powell, Walton and Gasol on the court at the same time as he's sitting on the bench.

But then check out most team huddles with the game on the line, and who's doing the talking?

So later I returned to the topic of who is coaching the Lakers, telling Phil "I want to go back to your abrupt 'no.' When you deal with Kobe, do you always know what he's going to do . . . do you struggle with that a little bit?"

"No," was his abrupt answer, and the room exploded in laughter.

But what has it been like coaching a headstrong player like Kobe, who doesn't mind grabbing the big moment with an eye on doing it all by himself?

The way it looks to so many others, and apparently Mourning as well, "Phil doesn't have to do anything but call timeouts. Kobe is the facilitator. He is the one driving the mission of this particular team right now.

"The communication level he has with his teammates out there, you can just see it."

It makes you wonder if there's any reason to give Phil a ring when this thing is over, or is that really the genius in coaching the Lakers, allowing Kobe to act at times as if he is in command?

No question it's been a battle at times, Phil and Kobe bumping egos, Phil making sure everyone knew about the story -- true or not -- that had Kobe throwing games in high school so he could be the hero and win them in the end.

The last two years they have talked as if one, but every so often Kobe has been unable to contain himself -- check out the way this series began, Kobe's "I mean business demeanor," and "he wants it more than anyone else."

But it has always been Jackson's philosophy to win as a team, the coach not afraid to say so and on occasion point out Kobe has tried to do too much -- even in victory.

On the verge of being sized for yet another ring, Phil obviously has a knack for working with headstrong, gifted athletes, and have you noticed the softening in Kobe's demeanor the last few games? It has been striking.

It's no longer Kobe, the angry, determined competitor out to win it all by himself, but now the basketball player coming across as almost human like everyone else in a Lakers uniform.

No question he's different now from where he was when this series started, history suggesting it's probably the Zen Master at work again -- his calmness wearing off on others, and at the same time making it almost appear as if he's doing nothing.

And no one does nothing better than Phil.

IN THE latest Jeanie Vision installment, we get Phil in bed after Game 2, and we know it's Phil because he has "Phil" printed on the front of what appears to be a nightshirt or chef's outfit.

"It was a chef's outfit," Phil said later, not waiting around long enough to explain why he goes to bed dressed as a chef.

When it comes time for Jeanie to throw it to Phil, he begins singing, "Oh, What a Night," I'm pretty sure referring to the Lakers' victory.

THE SAN DIEGO Union-Tribune reported there is an arrest warrant out for Ryan Leaf, who failed to show for a court appearance after a grand jury had delivered nine indictments relating to prescription painkillers.

In Texas, Randall County prosecutor Lacy Miller said, "Right now he is a wanted individual."

In a pathetic way, it's probably the only time in recent memory that Leaf has been wanted by anyone.

TODAY'S LAST word comes in e-mail from Ken Gherardi:

"Hey idiot, looking back on the article you wrote before the playoffs where the Phillies kicked the Dodgers' butts, it seems to me you are the bitter, angry man. You must feel pretty stupid. You are clueless when you wrote Phillies fans are pit bulls and just waiting to attack opposing fans."

No idea how I ever came to such a conclusion.

--

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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