They call him The Zen Master, a man who uses holistic approaches to coaching influenced by Eastern philosophy. Phil Jackson has been called many things, but controversial is hardly one of them. Jackson recently went on “The Waddle & Silvy Show”on ESPN 1000 in Chicago and said, “The scenario that sits kind of behind the scene, is that eventually these guys that were recruited — [Chris] Bosh and [LeBron] James — by [team president] Pat Riley and Micky Arison, the owner, are going to come in and say, ‘We feel you [Riley] can do a better job coaching the team. We came here on the hopes that this would work,’ and whatever, I don’t know. That’s kind of my take on it, is that eventually if things don’t straighten out here soon, it could be the Van Gundy thing all over again.” This raised a lot of eyebrows in the media and many people questioned the 11-time NBA champion’s remarks. I decided to write about this after listening to Jeff Van Gundy ramble on and on about it during ESPN’s broadcast of the Heat-Magic game on the 24th.
Was Phil Jackson wrong in his remarks? No, absolutely not. I completely agree with what he said. Remember, this same kind of situation happened in 2006 when Riley fired then-coach Stan Van Gundy for his struggles with Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal. What happened when Riley took over as coach? They won a championship. How is this situation any different? Let me tell you.
That 2006 Heat team is much better than the 2010 version. Why? Because they had an inside game. What’d Chris Bosh say when he was deciding on where he would sign? He didn’t want to be an undersized center. What is he in Miami? An undersized center. You may be saying to yourself, “Christian, he doesn’t play center in Miami. They have Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Erik Dampier and Joel Anthony.” Yes, they do. Clearly the cream of the crop. They simply don’t match up against the likes of Dwight Howard or Kevin Garnett. I’ll go ahead and be so bold as to say they don’t even match up well against Shaq, Anderson Varejao or Brook Lopez.
Now I’m not going to say that the Heat aren’t one of the most talented teams in the league. On paper, they are. You can’t argue with the raw talent of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, you just can’t. The team is not built to play inside and that’s always been a huge part of the game. Think about it – Kobe didn’t get his respect until he won without Shaq. The Spurs have won with Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. The Pistons – Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace and Chauncey Billups. The Celtics with Rajon Rondo and the Big Three. If you want to win, you have to have talent at every position. People will say that Phil Jackson won with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen only, but people forget about how good Steve Kerr was running the point and that solid inside game.
Back to the original point. Is Erik Spoelstra the guy who should be coaching the Heat? In my opinion, no. What has the guy done in his career? Nothing. And even with the most talent on any roster, the team is struggling to get wins. On the night of the 24th, they were coming off of back-to-back losses to the Memphis Grizzlies and the Indiana Pacers. Now, a change of coach isn’t going to suddenly make the centers on the Heat roster suddenly be able to match up to the better post players in the Eastern Conference. It certainly will help, though, to have a proven winner on the bench, a guy who instantly commands respect. So no, Phil Jackson, you were not wrong. You were completely within your rights to say what you did and I will not be surprised if Pat Riley fires Spoelstra in the middle of the season to retake his spot on the bench.