Nothing much has been heard from Phil Jackson since he considered a return to coaching the Lakers, but now the Zen Master has finally spoken publicly in an interview with Sport Illustrated. In the interview Jackson discusses the current Lakers situation, his possible return to basketball, and how the game has evolved. You can see the entire transcript of his interview here, but I found his comments on Dwight Howard and the struggling Lakers particularly interesting.
SI: When you look at the Lakers now, considering that they’ve had a lot of personnel changes and injuries, what do you see?
Jackson: They just don’t put the ball in the post. They’ll use a screen-roll to get the guy in the post. But there’s no consistent plan to do it. Yes, Kobe will go in there. But Dwight [Howard] just doesn’t get any touches. They’ve basically eliminated his assets.
SI: But wouldn’t his assets be rolling off the screen-roll, with either [Steve] Nash or Kobe?
Jackson: You want the ball 10 feet away from the basket. Throw it into the post, make them double-team and have everybody around to make shots. That’s what Shaq could do. That’s where you have the Robert Horrys, the Derek Fishers and the Rick Foxes sitting out there getting wide-open jumpers.
SI: But Dwight is not Shaq in that aspect of the game, drawing the double team and finding people. Isn’t that true?
Jackson: I think he can be. But he is not where he needs to be physically because of the back surgery. He needs a year to recover from something like that. He’s starting to come around, but he has a massive upper body to carry around. He’s a terrific athlete, but he still has to get all that back. He’s looking better all the time, but his problem right now is turnovers. He’s got to have a little better recognition, and that will help him gain the confidence of his teammates and coach, which he does not have now.
SI: How about when Pau Gasol comes back? There seemed to be some problems when they were out there together.
Jackson: Well, what is the problem? We won two championships that way [with two big men]. Pau is one of the best big men in the game. I mean, Pau Gasol is going to be in the Hall of Fame.
SI: Hmm, I love his game, but I don’t know about that.
Jackson: He has won European titles with Spain, [he won] two NBA championships. I think he will.
SI: As far as the Lakers go, haven’t they been improving?
Jackson: Yes, I think they are finding a way to play. And that’s nice to see. Steve has had to sacrifice because Kobe is dominating the ball, but Kobe is showing he can be both playmaker and scorer. Now it’s about defense. And I think that’s coming around. They make the playoffs, I think they’ve shown they’re going to be in it with every team.
Count on one of the best to ever do it to put the current Lakers turmoil into perspective. I wonder if team management regrets the decision they made to pass on rehiring him.