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Ten NBA insights from Phil Jackson

11/9/2010
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

Phil Jackson and photographer Andrew D. Bernstein have chronicled the Lakers' road to the 2010 title.

"Journey to the Ring" is essentially a coffee table book, starring some fantastic black-and-white photography, which Andrew Bernstein discusses on ESPNLosAngeles.

But it also has some thoughtful remembrances and commentary from Laker coach Jackson, which even has some hoops insight. For instance:

  • Jackson says that he often likes to get the ball into a big man in the paint on the game's first possession. That's not so rare. But less known may be the reason he gives: To expose an opponent's game plan. Will they front in the post? Double? "We want to get adjusted to those strategies," he writes, "right out of the blocks." Here's an idea: If you're coaching against the Lakers, do something quirky guarding the post early, 'cause it's a good bet the coaching staff will be watching closely and making decisions.

  • There are some things that consistently frustrate key moments for the Lakers. Jackson hammers on some of them repeatedly. One is media in the locker room before the game -- Bernstein shows us Lamar Odom listening to music on headphones in a forgotten, shoddy hallway in the bowels of the arena, having gone to extreme measures for some peace and quiet. Another is Sasha Vujacic's personal time. The whole team empties the locker room before heading out to the court ... and waits. Every time. For Vujacic, whom Jackson calls the team's most "ritualistic" guy, who takes some time alone to pray.

  • Kurt Rambis knows the Lakers as well as anybody. Jackson points out that when Rambis left the Lakers to take over the Timberwolves, the first time they played Rambis had defenders sandwich Pau Gasol in the post, preventing the post entry pass that makes the Laker offense hum. The Lakers won the game, but Jackson sounds like a guy who appreciates the tactic.

  • Jackson says that he likes to limit Andrew Bynum to eight or nine minutes of playing time at a stretch, "to keep him fresh and eager to play." Is he suggesting Bynum lacks motivation? So much of Jackson's writing might be needling. (Jackson also notes that he once broke one of Bynum's knee braces when, in anger, he kicked what he thought was just a pile of towels.) Jackson similarly notes that Ron Artest "is the newest member of the Lakers and sometimes needs extra information while on the court," which feels like it is intended to be an understatement. He also chides Gasol for how "relaxed and comfortable" he is in his "favorite position" receiving treatment on the training table.

  • The Thunder, notes Jackson, had a strategy of letting Ron Artest shoot from the corner -- and found it profitable as he made just three of 23 shots in the first four games of the playoffs. The 20 misses led to plenty of opportunities to score on the break. Credit, Jackson, though, with being one NBA coach who will let a guy keep shooting, and Artest's shooting proved to be a huge factor in the NBA Finals in 2010, much like Trevor Ariza's a year earlier.

  • There's a lovely photo of Jackson and his staff at a breakfast meeting in the Finals. He says one of the things on the agenda is what's in the newspaper. For all the talk about NBA players and coaches not caring what happens in the media, I found that a tad surprising, and refreshingly honest.

  • Kendrick Perkins' missing Game 7 of the Finals worried Jackson -- Perkins' replacement, Rasheed Wallace, is a threat to score inside and out.

  • In the Finals, says Jackson, the Celtics "sat" on Kobe Bryant's right hand, forcing him to use his left. Did you, like me, assume that Bryant was far too skilled for one to try such a thing?

  • There is strategy to which Lakers sit in which seats on their charter flights. "Kobe and I sit across from each other," writes Jackson, "and Fish sits just in front of Kobe. This is to our advantage. There are times when are in the air that we can watch game video or confer with each other about game situations."

  • Jackson says he teaches players a "'direct line' principle -- if no one is between you and the basket, go there." A great example of that, he says, is Derek Fisher on this big play in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.

  • Bryant, of course, turned in a nightmarish six of 24 from the field. Would he prefer Bryant shoot less? Jackson dances around that in his cryptic way: "Kobe has often said that his teammates bailed him out, as he was so determined to win the game and had such a tough night shooting the ball. It is a remarkable feat: He has now moved into an elite circle in the NBA." Tough to draw much of a conclusion from that one (teammates bailing him out, or moving into an elite circle?), which, I suspect, is exactly as it was intended.