Celebrating what could be Phil Jackson's 'Last Dance'
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When the Lakers visit the Bulls at the United Center on Friday, it could end up being Phil Jackson’s last game in the building as an NBA head coach.
Not only did Coach Jackson win six NBA championships over eight seasons while in Chicago, he’s also poised to win his 12th title overall and fourth three-peat if the Lakers win it all again next summer.
Besides Boston’s Red Auerbach, who won nine championships as a coach and seven more as general manager of the Celtics, it’s hard to imagine anyone topping what Phil has done. And while he hasn’t made an official announcement about his retirement, he certainly makes it sound like this is his “Last Dance.”
To me, Phil is the greatest coach the game has ever seen. Looking back on everything we went through together, I think we helped each other achieve some very special accomplishments. We both got our start in Chicago way back in 1987—me as a rookie and Phil in his first season as an assistant coach for Doug Collins. We believed in his coaching style and philosophy from the start. It ended up being very fruitful for those who have played for him, whether it was here in Chicago or in Los Angeles. To have seen what he does from a player’s and fan’s standpoint, it only helps me admire more what he does as a coach. Granted, I wasn’t around to appreciate what Coach Auerbach did when he was considered the greatest coach ever and still is by some, but to be a part of Phil’s career and successes is something I’ll always cherish.
I have a lot of fond memories of Phil as a coach, from when we were both in our first year with the Bulls to keeping tabs on how he’s doing with the Lakers. He’s always had a presence about him and he’s a wonderful teacher. He helped me become a better shooter, even though he wasn’t particularly known as a great shooter from when he played. I respected him because of his knowledge of the game and the way he dealt with us as players.
We’ve always had a great relationship. During my playing days, Phil was always very open and he allowed me a lot of leeway. He was receptive if I had ideas, and often times let me implement them if we both felt they would be best for the team. That was especially true in playoff situations going against a team we had seen a number of times. Whether I felt it was best to double team someone from the baseline or send someone to help and allow me to cover two opponents, he was open to what we had to say as players and that gave us all the more confidence in him. That open line of communication was great because he was always open to listening to what we had to say, whether it ultimately ended up working or not.
Pippen believes that Carlos Boozer and the Bulls are poised to have a very successful month.
( David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images)
It’s always good to see Phil and I try to catch up with him at least once or twice a season when his team is in town. I always keep an eye on the Lakers to see how he’s doing and will make a point of saying hello on Friday. Just by watching his teams play, it makes me feel close to him through the eyes of someone who used to play for him.
While he keeps hinting at this being his last season, Phil has an exceptional mind for the game and a lot of knowledge that he can continue to share in some capacity if that is what he chooses to do. He may not need to be on the sidelines traveling from city to city to do that. From a personal standpoint, though, maybe it is a good time for him to step away a bit after this season. He’s been hard at it as a coach since the 1980s, winning more than 1,100 NBA games and of course having a playing career before he coached. So he’s taken a long journey to arrive at where he is today, and it hasn’t always been easy along the way.
After this season is truly an ideal time for Phil to step away from the game if that’s what he wants. No one ever thought there would be a better coach than Red, but Phil has shown he deserves that accolade and he’ll always be remembered accordingly.
I’ve seen the Lakers play quite a few times this season and still believe they are the team to beat. They’re playing well once again and off to a great start with a record of 16-6. Obviously it’s a very talented group that has already won two NBA titles in a row. As a result, chemistry is not an issue for them at all, even without having Andrew Bynum in the mix yet this season. But he could be back as early as next week, which will give them an even more formidable front line. Their success is no surprise, given they have the best player in the game in Kobe Bryant, the best center in the game in Pau Gasol, and one of the best all-around players in Lamar Odom who can do so many things at different positions.
With Boozer in the mix, Rose’s Bulls poised for big month
The matchup against the Bulls on Friday will be an interesting one. I mentioned that last week’s games against the best in the Eastern Conference would be a measuring stick of sorts for the Bulls, and we saw that they have some work to do before they are at the level of the Boston Celtics or Orlando Magic. But as Carlos Boozer continues to get into a rhythm and fit in, the Bulls will grow as a team and improve.
We saw in the Bulls’ win over Oklahoma City on Monday how valuable a player like Boozer can become. By his standards, Derrick Rose had an off night, but it didn’t matter because Boozer had a huge game with 29 points and 12 rebounds. And, as a team, the Bulls were incredible on the defensive end of the floor, holding the Thunder to 35.4 percent shooting for the game, which tied Oklahoma City’s third-lowest field-goal percentage in any game over the last three seasons. On offense, Boozer’s value is in that he forces opponents to commit to double-teams. And when he has teammates like Rose, Luol Deng or Kyle Korver shooting well on the perimeter, it makes Carlos even more of an asset. It gives the Bulls inside penetration through the pass, which is great basketball to watch.
It seems like every column I write, I say how Derrick Rose continues to impress me, but he does. We’re seeing him mature before our eyes and recently, he’s shown that he is a closer. His international play this summer definitely propelled his growth and development. You can see it on the court and you can see it in his confidence level. The one thing I’ve also noticed is that he’s getting really good at picking his places. He knows when to attack, and he knows when to let the offense do its thing. That’s a difficult learning curve for a young player to grasp, especially when he’s your top scorer and he handles the ball so much. But he’s very clean in that area and meanwhile, the chemistry of the team continues to get better under his leadership. As we saw Wednesday night in Cleveland during the last two or three minutes, now more than ever he’s able to utilize his talents to create on his own and make baskets.
The Bulls are poised to have a very successful month. Of their seven remaining home games, five of them are against teams who have a record of below .500. The United Center has always given the team a great home court advantage; now it’s time for the Bulls to capitalize that and make a run. It’s very important to follow through and win games they are supposed to win. Yes, the Bulls went out on the road in November and had a successful road trip. They won four out of seven games and didn’t fall into a hole as they have in the past. Now, they need to build on that to establish some momentum and avoid falling into the grind of the NBA season. You’ve still got to take care of games, even when you’re playing at home. If you get careless, you’ll lose three or four games in a row. That can come back and bite you when get to April and you’re fighting for playoff positioning.
All of these games count equally at the end of the season, so the Bulls need to take these games one at a time. These 82 game seasons are filled with ups and downs. The running, transition and travelling takes a toll on you and there is some wear and tear, especially when you hit those stretches when you play your third game in four nights. Sometimes you don’t have your legs, your shots aren’t falling, or you’re on the road and it’s not going how you would like. That is always where having an experienced veteran like Boozer will come in handy. As he gets better, the Bulls will also improve and they’ll figure out how to best utilize him. Given that it doesn’t look as if Derrick is going to slow down anytime soon, it’s clear that there is a lot of upside for this team.