Do Guys Really Play Better With Kobe & Phil?

I was listening to Bill Simmons’ podcast the other day, and he was talking Lakers with J.A. Adande (a columnist I happen to like, btw). They were discussing the significance of Kobe Bryant being on the precipice of overtaking Jerry West as L.A.’s all-time #1 scorer (KB would go on to break the mark Monday vs. Memphis), and J.A. made an offhand remark about how players seem to play much better when they’re with Kobe and Phil Jackson, pointing to a guy like Devean George as an example of a player whose best years (aka “only semi-relevant years”) came while a member of the Lakers under Kobe & Phil.

Well, if you know me at all, you know I like to take offhand, casual remarks and see if they hold up under intense statistical scrutiny (which incidentally makes me a huge hit at parties)… OK, I promise I’m not really as big of a jerk as that makes me sound, but the idea is that remarks like the one J.A. made reflect conventional wisdom: perceptions that we accept as truth because they just feel true. And sometimes what we think feels true is actually incorrect, or at least unclear in its “truthiness” — like the idea that players play their best alongside Kobe Bryant & Phil Jackson.

Since Jackson took over as L.A.’s coach in 2000 (and excluding PJ’s missed 2005 season), 64 players have played 145 player-seasons with the Kobe-Phil Duumvirate, the most prolific of which is Derek Fisher (545 GP and 15,104 MP with the duo). Of those, 58 have also played 455 player-seasons without Kobe-Phil, meaning we have a pretty decent sample to work with, so let’s take a look at PER and Win Shares/3000 MP for that group of players in each situation. First, performance with KB+PJ:

Player G MP PER OWS3k DWS3k WS3k
Trevor Ariza 106 2429 15.8 4.3 5.2 9.4
Ron Artest 44 1459 12.5 2.5 4.2 6.7
Kwame Brown 136 3619 12.1 1.7 3.2 5.0
Shannon Brown 67 1046 13.6 3.8 4.3 8.1
Maurice Carter 4 50 7.1 -0.3 0.9 0.6
Brian Cook 187 3065 14.8 4.1 3.0 7.1
Joe Crispin 6 27 5.0 -6.6 2.5 -4.1
Javaris Crittenton 22 171 11.0 -2.2 3.0 0.8
Maurice Evans 83 1828 12.2 3.6 1.1 4.7
Derek Fisher 545 15104 12.0 3.4 3.0 6.4
Greg Foster 62 451 9.5 -0.1 2.9 2.8
Rick Fox 360 9080 11.8 2.7 2.9 5.6
Pau Gasol 140 5079 22.6 9.8 4.4 14.2
Devean George 414 7803 11.3 1.4 3.6 5.1
Horace Grant 132 3496 13.1 4.8 2.5 7.3
A.C. Green 82 1929 11.2 2.6 5.1 7.8
Ron Harper 127 3181 12.2 1.4 4.1 5.5
Robert Horry 316 7755 13.1 3.4 4.3 7.7
Lindsey Hunter 82 1616 9.4 0.5 3.2 3.7
Jim Jackson 13 92 2.1 -8.1 2.5 -5.6
Sam Jacobson 3 18 14.1 -4.9 4.5 -0.4
Coby Karl 17 71 15.8 1.6 5.0 6.6
Travis Knight 63 410 9.5 -1.5 6.1 4.6
Tyronn Lue 46 614 9.1 1.6 1.9 3.5
Mark Madsen 183 2072 10.3 3.9 2.2 6.1
Karl Malone 42 1373 17.8 4.6 4.9 9.4
Didier Ilunga-Mbenga 78 593 12.0 -0.5 5.9 5.4
Jelani McCoy 21 104 9.5 -0.6 3.7 3.1
Aaron McKie 24 252 6.8 -0.2 2.7 2.5
Stanislav Medvedenko 206 2836 13.5 2.6 3.1 5.7
Chris Mihm 100 1924 13.9 2.7 3.6 6.3
Adam Morrison 29 214 7.0 -2.3 3.4 1.1
Tracy Murray 30 193 5.2 -5.1 1.8 -3.3
Ira Newble 6 31 10.0 -2.0 4.3 2.3
Lamar Odom 340 12187 16.5 4.3 4.3 8.6
Shaquille O’Neal 354 13508 29.0 10.7 4.9 15.5
Jannero Pargo 46 405 6.4 -3.3 2.1 -1.2
Smush Parker 164 5230 12.5 2.0 2.6 4.6
Gary Payton 82 2825 17.3 5.6 2.9 8.5
Josh Powell 97 1046 8.9 -1.7 3.7 2.0
Laron Profit 25 279 11.8 -0.4 3.6 3.1
Vladimir Radmanovic 166 3240 11.9 2.4 3.0 5.4
Glen Rice 80 2530 16.2 6.8 3.8 10.6
Mitch Richmond 64 709 10.7 0.6 3.2 3.8
Isaiah Rider 67 1206 11.8 0.8 1.2 2.0
Kareem Rush 148 2116 8.5 -0.5 1.8 1.2
Bryon Russell 72 945 11.6 3.6 3.4 7.0
John Salley 45 303 8.3 -0.5 5.7 5.2
Soumaila Samake 13 77 12.9 3.6 2.8 6.4
Jamal Sampson 10 130 15.0 5.4 4.4 9.8
Brian Shaw 283 4613 10.9 1.0 3.2 4.2
Ronny Turiaf 173 2706 15.0 4.6 3.9 8.5
Ime Udoka 4 28 6.7 -10.3 5.7 -4.5
Sasha Vujacic 352 5286 11.8 3.8 3.1 6.9
Von Wafer 16 73 -1.6 -13.2 2.3 -10.9
Samaki Walker 136 2898 13.2 3.2 4.4 7.6
Luke Walton 360 7111 12.7 2.5 2.9 5.5
Shammond Williams 30 345 10.8 2.7 1.5 4.2
Total 14.6 3.8 3.6 7.4

Now, performance without:

Player G MP PER OWS3k DWS3k WS3k
Trevor Ariza 252 5574 13.3 0.8 3.5 4.3
Ron Artest 604 21037 16.5 2.1 4.2 6.3
Kwame Brown 357 7371 13.0 1.4 3.2 4.5
Shannon Brown 74 783 9.1 -4.3 3.8 -0.6
Maurice Carter 6 60 4.8 -3.2 1.1 -2.2
Brian Cook 159 1845 12.0 1.6 2.4 4.0
Joe Crispin 15 129 19.6 9.3 1.8 11.1
Javaris Crittenton 91 1682 10.6 -0.9 0.9 0.0
Maurice Evans 349 6586 12.6 4.5 2.5 7.0
Derek Fisher 450 10911 12.9 3.1 2.4 5.5
Greg Foster 594 7523 8.8 -0.6 2.6 2.0
Rick Fox 570 14643 14.6 3.0 2.7 5.7
Pau Gasol 476 16904 21.6 6.3 3.2 9.6
Devean George 186 3296 8.5 0.2 3.3 3.5
Horace Grant 1033 35125 16.3 5.4 4.0 9.4
A.C. Green 1196 34623 14.6 4.9 3.3 8.2
Ron Harper 882 28018 16.0 2.2 4.3 6.4
Robert Horry 791 19311 13.5 2.3 5.0 7.2
Lindsey Hunter 855 21637 12.3 1.3 3.0 4.3
Jim Jackson 872 28975 13.5 1.7 2.0 3.7
Sam Jacobson 65 734 11.2 3.6 1.0 4.6
Coby Karl 5 67 9.6 -2.2 1.9 -0.3
Travis Knight 308 4156 11.6 1.2 4.0 5.2
Tyronn Lue 508 11951 13.4 4.2 0.5 4.8
Mark Madsen 270 3263 6.6 0.6 3.1 3.7
Karl Malone 1434 53479 24.1 7.9 5.1 12.9
Didier Ilunga-Mbenga 95 504 9.6 -0.8 4.6 3.8
Jelani McCoy 239 3720 12.7 1.2 2.8 4.0
Aaron McKie 769 18903 12.9 2.2 4.1 6.3
Stanislav Medvedenko 57 504 12.1 3.2 0.7 3.9
Chris Mihm 336 6834 13.3 1.6 2.4 4.1
Adam Morrison 122 2993 7.4 -2.7 1.3 -1.4
Tracy Murray 628 11910 14.7 4.0 2.1 6.1
Ira Newble 374 7614 9.6 1.7 2.0 3.6
Lamar Odom 374 13604 17.2 2.7 3.0 5.7
Shaquille O’Neal 807 27437 25.5 7.2 4.7 11.9
Jannero Pargo 301 5044 11.9 -0.9 2.8 2.0
Smush Parker 110 1839 9.5 -2.9 1.8 -1.1
Gary Payton 1253 44292 19.0 6.2 3.1 9.3
Josh Powell 138 2009 10.2 0.5 2.6 3.0
Laron Profit 110 1258 10.3 -1.1 2.0 0.9
Vladimir Radmanovic 423 10856 13.1 2.3 2.3 4.7
Glen Rice 920 32455 16.2 5.3 2.0 7.4
Mitch Richmond 912 33600 17.7 5.3 1.7 7.0
Isaiah Rider 496 16645 14.9 2.4 1.6 4.0
Kareem Rush 198 3840 9.7 -1.2 1.9 0.6
Bryon Russell 769 18860 12.7 3.6 3.6 7.2
John Salley 703 16221 12.9 3.2 4.4 7.6
Soumaila Samake 34 226 9.0 -0.4 2.1 1.7
Jamal Sampson 62 501 12.5 1.4 4.5 5.8
Brian Shaw 659 17053 11.9 0.3 2.7 3.0
Ronny Turiaf 98 2052 13.9 3.2 2.5 5.7
Ime Udoka 263 5217 11.2 1.7 3.3 5.0
Sasha Vujacic 35 403 8.9 0.2 1.0 1.1
Von Wafer 93 1380 13.2 0.9 3.7 4.5
Samaki Walker 309 4714 12.4 0.2 4.1 4.4
Luke Walton 61 768 11.4 0.8 1.2 1.9
Shammond Williams 295 5006 13.5 3.1 1.9 5.0
Total 15.9 3.8 3.2 7.0

That’s not really what we were expecting when we thought guys played better with Kobe & Phil. Maybe you can make the case that PER is depedent on scoring, which is in turn dependent on shooting attempts, and those are obviously in short supply when you play with someone like Kobe taking 30% of the team’s shots when he’s on the court — I’ll grant you that, but even OWS (which has a tendency to go the other way and overvalue efficiency) says the groups are basically the same with or without Kobe-Phil.

Defensively, DWS says this group played slightly better with KB+PJ, and I’m sure that’s true; the Lakers’ DRtg has been around 104 in a league where the average rating is 105. Then again, critics would say that DWS are too dependent on the team, which sort of creates a chicken-and-egg situation: did the Lakers play better D because they had better DWS talent, or did they have better DWS talent because they played better D?

Either way, it’s difficult to look at these numbers and say that having Kobe Bryant as a teammate and Phil Jackson as a coach makes you play better. If anything, it’s basically even — you play the same way whether KB-PJ are in the picture or not.

Just for fun, here are the differences between performance with KB+PJ and without (minimum of 500 MP in each situation; positive numbers mean better performance with KB+PJ; click column headers to sort):

Player PER OWS3k DWS3k WS3k
Trevor Ariza 2.4 3.4 1.7 5.2
Ron Artest -3.9 0.4 0.0 0.4
Kwame Brown -0.9 0.4 0.0 0.4
Shannon Brown 4.5 8.1 0.5 8.6
Brian Cook 2.8 2.5 0.7 3.2
Maurice Evans -0.4 -0.9 -1.4 -2.3
Derek Fisher -0.9 0.3 0.6 0.9
Rick Fox -2.8 -0.3 0.3 -0.1
Pau Gasol 1.0 3.5 1.2 4.7
Devean George 2.8 1.3 0.3 1.6
Horace Grant -3.1 -0.6 -1.5 -2.1
A.C. Green -3.4 -2.3 1.8 -0.4
Ron Harper -3.8 -0.8 -0.2 -1.0
Robert Horry -0.4 1.1 -0.7 0.5
Lindsey Hunter -2.9 -0.9 0.3 -0.6
Tyronn Lue -4.3 -2.6 1.4 -1.2
Mark Madsen 3.7 3.3 -0.9 2.3
Karl Malone -6.3 -3.3 -0.2 -3.5
Didier Ilunga-Mbenga 2.4 0.3 1.3 1.6
Stanislav Medvedenko 1.3 -0.6 2.4 1.8
Chris Mihm 0.6 1.1 1.1 2.2
Lamar Odom -0.7 1.6 1.3 2.9
Shaquille O’Neal 3.6 3.4 0.2 3.6
Smush Parker 3.1 4.9 0.8 5.7
Gary Payton -1.7 -0.5 -0.2 -0.8
Josh Powell -1.2 -2.2 1.1 -1.1
Vladimir Radmanovic -1.2 0.1 0.7 0.8
Glen Rice -0.1 1.5 1.8 3.3
Mitch Richmond -7.0 -4.7 1.5 -3.2
Isaiah Rider -3.1 -1.5 -0.4 -1.9
Kareem Rush -1.2 0.7 -0.1 0.6
Bryon Russell -1.0 -0.1 -0.2 -0.2
Brian Shaw -1.1 0.7 0.5 1.2
Ronny Turiaf 1.1 1.4 1.4 2.7
Samaki Walker 0.8 3.0 0.3 3.2
Luke Walton 1.4 1.8 1.7 3.5

About Neil Paine

I work for I've been a freelance writer for ESPN, Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, and Basketball Prospectus.

Posted on February 3, 2010, in Analysis. Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. Sorting by whichever category, it seems obvious that those who have performed worse are typically the older guys who took on smaller roles with the Lakers, e.g., Malone, Payton, Green, Grant, Richmond, Harper, et al. The opposite side might be true too, that younger guys end up on the positive trend.** Is there anyway to normalize the list with aging curves?

    **Smush Parker stands out as an incredible case: in the prime of his playing career, and then basically out of the league.

  2. Similarly with a guy like Shaq, he got a lot worse post Kobe / Phil due to age, so his numbers might also normalize with an age curve.

    It’s always tough to tell why a guy is peaking in a particular season. Age, chemistry, health, coaching…

  3. Does anything happen when you include 2004-2005 under Rudy Tomjanovich and Frank Hamblen? There’s also the 1996-1999 period under Del Harris, etc.

  4. What you forgot to take into consideration is age. I understand the comparisons of say, Trevor Ariza who has been in his prime both with and without the two. But you have Karl Malone in there as well as Gary Payton. Now we are talking about all time top 25 players (sure i may have a high regard for the glove since i live in Seattle). However, when they went on to play with Kobe/Phil, they were broken men. They were not half the players they once were. The fact is that the Lakers have been title contenders for almost the entire tenure of Kobe. They have been to the playoffs EVERY year except 1, and have been to the NBA finals 6 times winning 4 of those. What does this attract? It attracts over the hill players coming to the Lakers to win a title before they retire. In this group you can surely put Ron Harper, Glen Rice, Horace Grant, Karl Malone, Gary Payton, AC Green, Horry, Aaron Mckie, Mitch Ritchmon, Isiah Rider, Byron Russell, Brian Shaq, Samakie Walker. And that’s off the top of my head! Most of these players are hall of famers or soon to be hall of famers for goodness sakes. They only came to the Lakers after they were over the hill, in order to win a championship in their greatly diminshed states. This is a great portion of your list. And it is only from the top of my head.

    This throws a wrench in your stat based analysis. You need to factor out these players. This is a variable which is quite important and not taken into account. The only player i can see from this list that would potentiall be in the opposite is Shaq. But even Shaq would not work because he had many all star years before coming to LA, and statistically he perhaps played his best ball before coming to LA. He also had many all star season after leaving LA.

  5. The last person on my list should be Brian Shaw and not Brian Shaq. Sorry for the confusion.

  6. Age is not as confounding a variable as you might believe. I’m assuming Neil weighted everything (averages) by minutes played. Over a large sample, I feel confident saying minutes played is correlated with “effectiveness” as a player. Very few players are going to be playing significant minutes if there is someone younger and better than them waiting to play. Basically what I am saying is, it all comes out in the wash. This is a group study and *not* a look at specific players. There will of course be variance but that is why having so many player-seasons available is important.

  7. I would really have to see the full definition of these statistics to believe this argument. I look at the list of players who “performed worse” (i.e., negative efficiencies or WS3Ks), and I’m seeing a bunch of guys who were playing out their last seasons in the league when they played with Phil and Kobe (Green, Payton, Richmond, Malone, Grant, Rider). One could look at it and say “these guys had way better seasons without Phil and Kobe”, or be a little more reasonable and say “Obviously these dudes have had better seasons, they were an average of like 38 years old when they finally played with Phil and Kobe”. I mean, two of these guys had cemented Hall of Fame careers before going to LA. Similarly, Shaq should maybe be removed because the prime of his career was spent playing with Phil and Kobe, and he has continued to play elsewhere as his effectiveness drops with age.
    What I think is telling is the number of young guys on this list who really did nothing before arriving in LA, and then managed to play better ball in LA with Phil and Kobe (Brown, Ariza); or look at guys who had decent-to-good careers in LA, and then left and have fallen off the map (Turiaf, Devean George, Vlad-Rad, Smush, juries out on Ariza still but he’s looked good).

  8. One way to to such a study is to compare only consecutive seasons, rather than whole careers.
    Comparing Payton’s Laker time to the season before and after would be a lot more relevant than what he did in his prime, in a galaxy far, far, away.

    As for the metrics used, PER will almost always drop with a reduced role; DWS/min will almost always rise when going to a better D team.

  9. Superstars win games in the NBA. They don’t make their teammates better, but they certainly make them look better, because everyone looks so much better on a winning team. Call it the Turkoglu effect (although any number of players make the point. He is now posting almost exactly identical offensive numbers to those he put up in Orlando last year. The ts% is exactly the same. But he looks a hell of a lot worse playing in Toronto….

  10. The Win Share is what sticks out for me. Obviously, the Lakers have been winning a lot of games over the past 11 years. The players might not necessarily be playing better, but you can say they’re better off! If anything, it’s easier to win games with Phil and Kobe. One could make the argument that’s really what “making your teammates” better actually means: making it easier for them.

  11. Owen, so Magic Johnson, John Stockton, and LeBron James didn’t (don’t) make their teammates better?

  12. I can’t get to it right now because I’m at work and they block most sites, but there’s a great quote from Steve Kerr about the effect Jordan had on his teammates. The gist was that Jordan made the practices so intense that the games felt easy. He instilled confidence and belief in players by forcing them to work extra hard in practice – if you managed to compete with MJ for a 3 hour practice, it should be relatively easy to compete against most everybody else for a 48 minute game.

    So in that sense a leader can “make” his teammates better by fostering an atmosphere that promotes mental toughness. What he can’t do is add skills to their games (though if he’s good enough he can make sure that they only have to do what they’re already good at – a la Steve Kerr playing with Michael and Scottie where he didn’t have to do any PG work and just did his job as a spot up shooter).

  13. I disagree with that, J. Jordan’s practice habits had the potential to make his teammates. But they had to step up to the challenge. There were plenty of guys who crumbled under that very pressure. Getting better is always up to the player himself. Credit goes to Jordan for fostering that environment, but again, I think that falls in the category of making things easier (in that the crucible was readily available, rather than seeking it out in the off season, or having to constantly push oneself) rather than actually making someone better.

    You can take a horse to water . . .

  14. Not to hijack the thread here, but if you couldn’t make it in practice w/ MJ wouldn’t you get canned or traded and hence not be on the roster? Even sucks like Stacey King and Dickey Simpkins dealt with it and performed (sort of) when necessary.

  15. First, the most obvious is that this analysis is ridiculously simple, simply measuring the difference between players performances on the Lakers with Phil and Kobe versus not on the Lakers. That obviously is going to lend itself to a skewed result, as first off it doesn’t take into account what stage players are in their careers, what roles they’ll be playing, etc. As the first commenter notes:

    “Sorting by whichever category, it seems obvious that those who have performed worse are typically the older guys who took on smaller roles with the Lakers, e.g., Malone, Payton, Green, Grant, Richmond, Harper, et al.”

    Furthermore, not only is it older players who are going to be taking on a smaller role with the Lakers. Virtually any player in the league who joins the Lakers will have to take on a smaller role (Ron Artest for example), and thus will have a decrease in their numbers.

    The question of whether Kobe makes teammates better is questionable. But that Phil Jackson makes his players better? Looking at individual player statistics will tell you next to nothing-it’s the win-loss column that counts, not to mention championships.

  16. I don’t quite understand here why you’d try and over-complicate with win shares. Smush Parker was at best a fourth-string guard everywhere he played without Kobe; with Kobe he averaged 10 points…a game!! (And then he complained that Kobe was the problem)

    Kwame Brown had his best years with all normal averages (points, rebounds) with Kobe. Devean George the same. Both of them are barely hanging around in the league without Kobe!!

    Trevor Ariza can’t create his own shot, but he gets more of them in Houston. But his best years will still have been with the Lakers. In Orlando and New York, he barely even made it off the bench. After playing with Kobe and Phil, he got an enormous contract from Houston, probably the last such big contract he’ll get.

    Brian Cook hasn’t been the same since leaving the Lakers and he, too, barely makes it off the bench in Houston. Slave Medvedenko, likewise, is no longer even in the league, but he was a viable role player with Kobe and Phil.

    The basic fact is that a lot of guys who otherwise wouldn’t even be in the league–or if in the league, permanent bench warmers–have played out of their gourds with Kobe and Phil. Averaging 10 points a game–or even 5, 6, or 7 for some of these guys–is something they could only do with Kobe and Phil. Without them, well, they could always seek employment with 27-year-old Smush Parker right now, couldn’t they?

  17. Oh, and I forgot Chucky Atkins. Where’s he these days anyways?

  18. Well, the flip side of that is Artest struggling to fit in this year, Tyronn Lue turning into a borderline starting-caliber PG after the Lakers didn’t re-sign him, VladRad going from a solid contributor in Seattle to an increasingly marginal performer in L.A., Rick Fox going from underrated with the C’s to massively overrated with the Lakers, etc. I think you can find cases either way, but the question I was trying to answer wasn’t “Will any random player play better when he joins the Kobe-Phil Lakers?” as much as it was trying to determine whether the following statement is true or not: “In the past, players have played better with Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant than without.” Do you see the distinction? There’s some overlap, but the former is a question of cause and effect, while the latter is simply a factual statement. I’m not saying a random player wouldn’t have a better chance of playing better with L.A. than with another team, I’m just saying that in the past, players who have played with both the Lakers and other teams have (at best) played the same in both places.

  19. I think the study absolutely supports the Kobe makes teammates better argument. Look at the WS/3000 minutes so that the stats are normalized for games and minutes played and the results are staggering….
    I am going to focus on Kobe’s second era 2004-2010 (the one without Shaq) and list the change in WS/3000 minutes for those players who played with Kobe and with another team during that era:
    Shannon Brown 8.6
    Smush Parker 5.7
    Trevor Ariza 5.2
    Pau Gasol 4.7
    Brian Cook 3.2
    Lamar Odom 2.9
    Ronny Turiaf 2.7
    Chris Mihm 2.2
    Didier Ilunga-Mbenga 1.6
    Derek Fisher 0.9
    Vladimir Radmanovic 0.8
    Ron Artest 0.4
    Kwame Brown 0.4
    Josh Powell -1.1
    Maurice Evans -2.3

    So out of the 15 players who played with Kobe and without Kobe, only 2 played worse with him than they did without him. Both of those players were also back-ups who played very few minutes with Kobe so the fact that they are negative is not a surprise as all.

    Also, it would be interesting to see what the FG% is for players during seasons on the Lakers and seasons not on the Lakers. Most of the players that have played with Kobe and another team have had there career highs in FG% with the Lakers. Kobe may not get the assists that Nash or Paul get, but he draws so much attention with double and triple teams that he creates the opportunities for his teammates to get better looks than they typically have on other teams. This I would say is “making teammates better”.

  20. Very interesting thread. I agree that age should be accounted for. I also see two other major questions.

    First, how do we know that any differences are due to Kobe and Phil and not some other factor? For example, how does being on a good team affect individual stats? Were these Lakers different in effect from any other top team? This should be easy enough to figure out by adding team record as a hypothetical independent variable and testing whether it correlates to better or worse individual stats. It would also be interesting to compare the one Jackson-free season to the others.

    Second, should we really equate individual stats to “better play”? Players are asked to play different roles on different teams and a reduction in stats doen’t necessarily mean they are playing worse or vice versa.

  21. Actually, Phil Jackson does make players better, I’m sure D. Berri published something about this. Also, the way you conducted the research is silly. Since when is same player still comparable even after huge age gaps? In essence, if an old Grant played well with the Lakers as he did with the Bulls, then the support goes in favor of PJ&KB., etc.

  22. Ive heard the argument for some time now that Phil Jackson’s greatness is overstated because he has had the fortune of having arguably the three most dominant players of the last quarter of a century (Jordan, Kobe, Shaq) so how hard could it be to win with those guys? Or so the theory goes. Because Red Auerbach, the previously crowned King of Coaching had to deal with such slouches as Bill Russel, Bob Cousy,Tom Heinsohn John Havlicek, and KC Jones. While there are many flaws in that line of thinking, among them, how obvious it is that basketball is not a game that allows for the possibility for one player to take a team all the way to the championship solely on his back. (see KG’s playoff history in Minny). Even Jordan needed Pippen. Other than that, this theory ignores the real issue of coaching Mega super stars. Egos. The Zen Master is and has been, well, a master at managing the many different egos on his teams. Jordan’s tremendous ego has been well documented (see his HOF induction speech) as has Pippen’s (his famous refusal to re-enter a game in the fourth quarter) Dennis Rodman’s various transgressions and moody behavior…as well as almost his entire team’s almost constant feuding with GM Jerry Krause. Through it all he managed to coach the moody, arogant bunch to six titles in eight seasons. In LA, the land of high salaries and enormous egos, he managed to keep the relationship between Shaq and Kobe together long enough to win a championship…before it finally imploded. We still don’t know the whole story of what really happened. Then in recent seasons, with the Lakers seemingly falling from grace, and Kobe the superstar threatening retirements and demanding trades, Jackson managed to squelch those flames and rally both his superstar and his underacheiving supporting cast to what turned out to be his 10th coaching title. So…I think you could say he does make players better, but I think its more that he gets his players to act better, and the result is better play, and more wins.

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