Phil Jackson comments on spat
Phil Jackson may have stepped away from the NBA, but he's never been one to duck a controversy.
The former Los Angeles Lakers coach didn't exactly pick sides in the recent dust-up between centers Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard, but said "there is a lot to what (O'Neal) says" when he characterized Howard as a "pick-and-roll" player with a more limited offensive game than more traditional back-to-the-basket centers Andrew Bynum and Brook Lopez.
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Jackson described Howard as a better all-around player and complemented him on the improvements he's made to his offensive game in recent years, but noted Howard is still "learning the post game."
"Brook and Andrew are guys who have good touches. They're good scoring players and they have good offensive games," Jackson said on the "Waddle and Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000 in Chicago on Friday.
"Dwight is a guy that has that amazing athletic ability but the overall game -- rebounding, defending, blocking shots, running the court -- this is a guy that runs with the wolves, so to speak. He can get up and down that court as quick as any of the guards and forwards because of his athletic ability.
"Dwight's learning the post game and I think he has improved over the last couple years with his left hand. It looks like he's shooting the ball a lot better. He used to be a guy that you felt like you had to keep out of the lane. If you could do that, he was going to be limited in his scoring. Now he's developing some of the offensive game."
Speaking in a roundtable discussion with fellow TNT analysts posted on NBA.com last week, O'Neal placed Howard below Lopez and Bynum when asked who was the best center in the league.
"We as players, we always watch people before us," O'Neal said. "When I came in, it was Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon, guys who played like true centers who played inside. What we have now are centers that are going to the European style, which is a lot of pick-and-roll. Dwight Howard, who's a pick-and-roll player, some people say he's the best center in the league, but me being an old-school center, I'm going to go with Robin Lopez and Andrew Bynum because they play with their back to the basket."
O'Neal later corrected himself to say he was speaking about Brook Lopez and not his brother, Robin, who plays for the New Orleans Hornets.
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Howard responded to O'Neal after the Lakers practiced on Thursday, saying the former star should "just let it go" and that "it's time to move on."
Howard then pointed out what he perceived as O'Neal being a hypocrite.
"He hated the fact when he played that the older guys were talking about him and how he played and now he's doing the exact same thing," Howard said. "Just let it go. There's no sense for him to be talking trash to me. He did his thing in the league. He's one of the most dominant players to ever play the game. Just sit back and relax. You did your thing. Your time is up. So, I don't really care. I don't really care. He can say whatever he wants to say."
The Lakers plan to retire O'Neal's jersey at halftime of their game against the Dallas Mavericks on April 2.
Jackson coached O'Neal from 1999-2004 and the pair won three straight NBA titles from 2000-02. Jackson has frequently noted that he and O'Neal maintained a strong relationship off the court, even after O'Neal was traded from the Lakers following the 2004 season and Jackson took a one-year leave of absence.
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Jackson returned to the Lakers' bench in 2006 and won two more NBA titles with Kobe Bryant in 2009 and 2010 before retiring again after the 2011 season.
Jackson seems to have kept a close eye on his former team and he seems intrigued by the challenges facing coach Mike Brown and his staff. The Lakers acquired both Howard and point guard Steve Nash in the offseason.
"The oil that's going to make everything kind of work, that's Pau Gasol," Jackson said. "He's the guy that can kind of make it easier for Howard to be a player inside. Pau can move around in the post and move up to the high post and he can be an outside defender that can help out in a variety of screen roll activities.
"You have to find an offense that is going to work and include everybody because Kobe dominates the ball. Steve Nash dominates the ball, and then you've got players that need to get the ball in good spots to work for their offense."
After running more structured offensive sets last year, Brown has decided to install the Princeton, a motion-oriented offense, and has hired assistant coach Eddie Jordan to coordinate.
Jackson said he thought the offense would suit the Lakers.
"From what I understand, they've gone to some form of the Princeton offense, which is a system similar to the Triangle (offense)," Jackson said. "That can get them into an automatic response so they don't have to call plays or get, you know, realigned. They can just kind of get their flow game back again."
Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin was used in this report.