|ESPN.com: NBA Playoffs 2004||[Print without images]|
|A season spent staring at adversity certainly took its toll on the Zen Master.|
This isn't a snap decision, though. Retirement is something Jackson has given a lot of thought over the course of a tough season filled with high expectations, injuries and all the off-court problems the Lakers encountered. Add to that four future Hall-of-Famers on the roster and the pressure is tremendous.
And make no mistake, his was a tough year for Phil. Karl Malone and Gary Payton were brought in to solidify the roster but neither played at the Hall of Fame level his career credentials would have suggested and the rest of the Lakers did not step up to take care of the deficiencies in L.A.'s game.
As for who might replace Jackson if he does indeed retire, it's hard to say who might be a good fit. When Pat Riley left after his great successes in Los Angeles the job was handed to assistant Randy Pfund in a shock from out of the blue, but that didn't work out despite the credible job Pfund did.
And had former Laker Byron Scott not taken the New Orleans job he definitely would have been interested. But no matter who is eventually hired, it's likely owner Jerry Buss will have a voice in who becomes the next coach in L.A.
Jackson has had a great career -- his nine championships are more than any coach except Boston Celtics great Red Auerbach -- and the fact that he won his titles with two different teams made the task even more difficult. If Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal came to Phil and asked him to come back Jackson might consider it, but outside of that extraordinary situation it looks like he has coached his last game with the Lakers.
What happened in the Finals?
Some say Jackson was outcoached by Larry Brown in the NBA Finals, but the two just have very different styles. Brown is a very good game coach, making adjustments on the fly that benefit his team, while Jackson is more conservative in that regard and lets his players work themselves out of trouble. He will sit on the bench through long runs by the opponent without taking a timeout.
Brown will call timeouts, substitute freely and change his defenses while Jackson will, as he said earlier this season, allow his guys to "wallow in their mire." It's a unique approach and I've never known a coach who worked that way as much as Jackson, but the man does have those nine championships.
That patience is a virtue but it can sometimes come back to bite you, and Jackson said going back all the way to Game 1 of the Finals that he may have stuck with his game plan too long.
That didn't make much difference in the Finals, though, because changes wouldn't have made much difference once Malone was lost to injury. He was key against Minnesota in the Western Conference finals and his absence at the end of the Detroit series exposed what I felt what was already a thin bench heading into the playoffs.
Backup point guard Derek Fisher showed flashes of solid play but did not have a good season overall while being hampered by injuries, while forward Devean George was inconsistent and the Lakers lacked a backup for O'Neal at center. They used Slava Medvedenko and sometimes Malone in that role when Shaq needed a rest but struggled without O'Neal in the Finals.
Young shooting guard Kareem Rush is just getting started in the league and despite his occasional brilliance he is not someone Los Angeles can hang its hat on. Same goes for rookie big man Brian Cook, who will become a good NBA player but was not ready to step in at a championship level this season.
That makes for a pretty flimsy bench, but the Lakers were still a pretty good team when the four main men were all playing well. The problem was that Malone and Payton seemed to have lost a step, lost that critical ounce of skill. When Malone and Payton were on their games, Shaq and Kobe were quite consistent, but that just did not happen when it mattered most.
That being said, the Pistons probably would have won the title even if Malone had played at the same level he showed against Minnesota. The addition of Rasheed Wallace gave Detroit another scoring option and significantly improved the Pistons' scoring defense and field goal percentage allowed. His impact turned a good team into a championship team.
Richard Hamilton was also dynamite, running forever and displaying a full repertoire of shots: pull-up jumpers, leaners, slashing drives and 3-pointers. Tayshaun Prince continued to come of age at both ends of the floor and is on his way to becoming a star.
In addition, championship series MVP Chauncey Billups was obviously great after an inconsistent performance in the Eastern Conference finals. Billups was inconsistent with his shot and committed too many turnovers against Indiana in the conference finals but was terrifically patient against the Lakers. He passed up shooting opportunities so he could get his team into the offensive set Brown called from the sideline and was a steadying influence on the entire team.
Brown prepares his team very well and always has a great game plan, which is helped by the fact that nearly everyone on his team is a terrific defender. He has a full complement of quick, athletic players at his disposal and should have the Pistons in a position to compete for the championship for several more years.
Dr. Jack Ramsay, an NBA analyst for ESPN, coached the Portland Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA championship. A member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, he is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Click here to send a question for Dr. Jack for possible use on ESPNEWS.