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Phil Jackson remains Lakers' ideal coach

The veteran goes on blending disparate talents and winning championships.

June 21, 2010|By Lisa Dillman, Los Angeles Times

"Know why General George C. Patton was so smooth? He never panicked. My man Patton was a smooth, cigar-smoking, sitting-at-the back-of-the-tent, never-panicking general. That's why he always did well in the war. When your general doesn't panic, the troops don't panic.

"Even in Game 7, when we were down to Portland, and Phil was mad, he didn't panic."

—Shaquille O'Neal in "Shaq Talks Back"

Still applies, doesn't it?

Of course, that was written in 2001 when everyone wasn't feuding all the time in Lakers country, just most of the time. And long before the words "man crush" became part of the vernacular, though it would sound odd to hear Shaq had a man crush on Patton.

In any event, just as Phil Jackson was the right man for the tumultuous Shaq-Kobe Bryant years, he remains the ideal coach for the current quirky blend of Lakers personnel, not as combustible as past teams but challenging nonetheless.

It goes beyond the fact that his teams have never missed the playoffs, and accordingly, never finished below .500. In fact, his worst-performing team in the regular season happened to be the 2006-07 Lakers, who were 42-40 and lost to the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs.

It goes far beyond the raw numbers and endless statistics.

Let's face it: There are, incredibly, doubters,

Even someone with all of Jackson's accomplishments and 13 rings — 11 as a coach and two as a player — has his critics in the gallery and blogosphere. Those who say, "Well, who couldn't coach Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, Shaq and Kobe and now Kobe and Pau Gasol?"

Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw mentioned most of those vaunted names, and took a mild verbal jump shot at the criticism. "You still have to be able to coach them and make it work," he said.

Shaw was standing in the corridor leading to the champagne-splashed Lakers locker room in the aftermath of the Game 7 victory over Boston and talking about why Jackson was the ideal leader for this particular group.

"Definitely, I mean, his track record speaks for itself," Shaw said. "But all the different personalities that we have and he is the one guy that can blend it all and make it work."

And Shaw would know from a historical perspective.

In the book "Madmen's Ball," Mark Heisler wrote about how Shaw once had to step between Jackson and O'Neal during a timeout in a playoff game at San Antonio in 2002, knowing Shaq was about to "lash out."

Eight years later, Jackson's challenges morphed into Ron Artest and Twitter.

In the old days, Shaq might vent to The Times about Jackson knowing "every other … thing" or Glen Rice's wife would go off to a newspaper in Charlotte about Jackson not liking her husband.

Now it was Artest almost immediately tweeting his concerns to the world during the Utah playoff series: "Ever since phil mention things about me in media before coming to me first I was weird. So every(one) pray he can somehow close his yapper and now say AMEN."

Jackson hardly sweated it, seeming more amused than anything else. After all, his girlfriend, Lakers executive Jeanie Buss, has a high-profile Twitter account.

Then again, what can be that stressful after dealing with Dennis Rodman?

Look at it this way. An amateur chef can screw up the meal even with the best ingredients in the world. The Lakers have experienced the world without Jackson and the taste was decidedly sour.

"We have all the talent in the world and this team needs a coach that can manage that talent, put it together and make everybody work together," said Lakers forward Luke Walton. "And Phil, he's the best in the world at doing that."

The special skill is hard to define. But you know it when you see it. And the Bulls saw it result in six NBA titles and the Lakers, now, five.

"And he's unbelievable at it," Walton said. "We really hope he's back."

That decision could come in the next week or so after Jackson has his usual medical checkup and tests and a few seconds to reflect about going forward for a three-peat.

Walton was asked if he had a gut feeling on the possibility of Jackson's returning.

The answer came with his big smile before he responded with three words: "He's coming back."

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

twitter.com/reallisa

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