Philadelphia 76ers: Management doing their job

The Sixers are looking like the drunk girl at the party. Whether or not they have long-term potential is completely irrelevant. Currently, they are a hot mess, and that’s all people can focus on.
With Saturday’s 103-77 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, the Philadelphia 76ers have tied their franchise losing-streak record. The Sixers have lost 20 straight games, and are predicted by many to shatter the league’s consecutive loss record of 26 set by the 2010-2011 Cleveland Cavilers.
As of now it seems easier to make fun of their current state than to look at General Manager Sam Hinkie’s long-term plan. But soon the focus will be guided towards their upcoming draft picks.
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The criticism will subside for sure once the season ends. People will begin to focus on their two first-round picks, five second-rounders, and massive amount of salary-cap space to lure free agents. The summer will be much brighter.
“Our job is to keep looking,” Hinkie said back in November. “…

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Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson call out Lakers management

Kobe Bryant will not make a return to the court this season for the Los Angeles Lakers and is already thinking about the future. Bryant’s left knee injury will keep him out of the Lakers’ final 18 games. The veteran guard now wants answers from executive vice president Jim Buss and his sister, Lakers president, Jeanie Buss in regards to the team’s future. “I think we have to start at the top in terms of the culture of our team,” Bryant said. “What kind of culture do we want to have? What kind of system do we want to have? How do we want to play? It starts there and from there, you can start building out your team accordingly.” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni has one year remaining on his contract, which is set to pay him $4 million, but he has gone just 62-74 (.456) since joining the team last November. “You got to start with Jim,” Bryant said. “You got to start with Jim and Jeanie and how that relationship plays out. It starts there and having a clear direction and clear authority. And t

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Report: Carmelo Anthony’s Future with NY Knicks a Concern for Woodson, Management

The New York Knicks have endured a bizarre 15-23 start to the 2013-14 NBA season. The poor stretch has the Knicks organization worried that Carmelo Anthony may flee for greener pastures. Coach Mike Woodson expressed his concern, per Al Iannazzone of Newsday: “You’re concerned,” Woodson said on ESPN New York radio Wednesday. “But Melo’s wearing a Knick uniform. I think Melo loves playing in New York. He’s been one of the bright spots this year. He’s been solid all the way through our ups and downs this year. To me, that’s the sign of a true pro. “We are starting to get back healthy. We are playing a little bit better. As far as Melo leaving New York, in my heart I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think Melo’s going to retire a New York Knick. That’s just my own personal belief.” New York and the Knicks are ideal for Melo—being one of the world’s most popular cities and NBA franchises. Not to mention the hometown edge. However, despite Woodson’s confidence, if Anthony is c

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How Will LA Lakers Management Bolster Kobe Bryant’s Supporting Cast?

ATLANTA — The conservative expectations for this Los Angeles Lakers team are altogether different from last season, when Kobe Bryant’s fully functioning foot and Dwight Howard’s upside raised the Lakers roof for the entire sports world.

Not that there still isn’t pressure, which can lead to panic. When the Lakers lose, the massive fanbase isn’t inclined to be patient—even though that was probably Jerry Buss’ greatest skill, to wait and wait and wait until just the perfect time to make the big, bold move and change the franchise’s fortunes.

For this final generation of Bryant’s Lakers, there may or may not be a true all-in moment for Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak before Bryant’s contract expires in 2016.

Bryant certainly hopes so, which is why he slipped Saturday night in Charlotte and cited his ongoing desire to play in June and the need for improvements, “whether it’s with the guys we have in the locker room or whatever management wants to do.”

Maybe Bryant knows something’s percolating; he has been informed in the past when the Lakers are cooking a trade. He tried quickly to backpedal on the comment by adding: “I have no idea about that; it’s not my job to focus on that.”

It is obvious to Bryant that the Lakers lack size and defense. He asked for more length and speed after last season and got some of that stuff, but the NBA’s fourth-worst team in rebounding percentage, the Atlanta Hawks, just took it to the Lakers on the boards in the second half Monday night.

Shocking? No. The Lakers were third-worst in rebounding percentage coming in. That’s why they keep turning back to Jordan Hill for interior energy, even though Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni prefers a stretch 4 and isn’t sold Hill can sustain his gusto as a 30-minute-a-night player.

If the Lakers can make a trade, their primary need is to land an athletic big man who can rebound and defend like crazy without disrupting an offense that has a long way to go in melding D’Antoni’s quick-passing tempo with Bryant’s ball-stopping creativity. (That’s a cruel reminder how Howard was supposed to be just that guy…but, well, he wasn’t.)

Second-best would be an athletic wing player who can rebound and defend like crazy and shoot threes. (The fall-back option there is needing Wesley Johnson to morph into an in-his-prime Shawn Marion by, like, next month.)

For all the Pau Gasol rumors, the Lakers are perfectly fine keeping Gasol the rest of the season, which would allow Bryant to believe he still has a fighting title chance here and now. The Lakers hope the Kobe-Pau magic re-emerges, but they’ve long ago embraced the financial benefit of just letting Gasol’s $19.3 million salary slide off the books.

Not only is it difficult to find a landing spot for a salary that big, even if it is expiring, but the Lakers are limited in the kind of players they would want back. They are determined not to have salary beyond 2016, hopefully not beyond 2015 and preferably not even beyond 2014.

The Lakers are intent on dropping below the luxury-tax plateau this offseason; they do have flexibility to add one huge free agent to go with Bryantwithout Gasol. (Another topic, way premature for now, would be a losing Lakers team maybe dumping salary come February to avoid paying luxury tax this season.)

That’s why stringing Gasol along makes sense for them; it allows them to let the market—no one knows who will want to come to the Lakers and when—dictate to them instead of force-feeding a move in a specific year.

The recent offseason was proof that the Lakers, still a desirable destination, can bring in decent guys with potential despite offering only one-year, low-pay deals. So the Lakers thereby can keep living year to year while awaiting their big splash.

But if a trade can be made—whether with Gasol or somehow with Steve Nash or more realistically Chris Kaman (under contract for just this season at $3.2 million)—the Lakers are interested in improving the team this season. They just don’t have many future draft picks to sweeten trade offers, so they’re very limited.

It’s not a tanking plan; it’s more a patient plan.

So does Omer Asik, an interior defensive force ready to be traded from the Houston Rockets, make sense for the Lakers to pursue?

He’d be a huge upgrade for the current team, but unless Houston or a third team in the Asik trade has a magic pill to cure Nash’s nerve problem completely or a time machine to stick him in and wants to trade for him, the Lakers would be committing to paying Asik an extra $8.4 million next season, which isn’t necessarily ideal for them.

The Lakers want so much future flexibility and have so few current assets besides Gasol that it’s a mighty challenge for them to make a great trade right now. And Gasol’s value doesn’t match his pay, making it even harder.

Nevertheless, like a skittish horse who has been lashed too many times, Gasol knows anything can happen when the Lakers’ pressure point reaches panic. He has been playing a lot better as his ankle sprain improves and Bryant continually pushes him on the court to reach for more, and Gasol believes he and the team need more to improve his odds of staying through the season.

“Trying to get wins,” he said Monday night, “so things don’t get messy.”

 

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Are Mark Jackson’s Game Management Skills Holding Golden State Warriors Back?

When the Golden State Warriors handed their head coaching reins to Mark Jackson in 2011, the former player-turned-broadcaster reached deep into the sports cliche bag.

Jackson was mum on any systematic switches he’d make, but that wasn’t for a lack of talking. He lobbed out a playoff prediction. He promised to change the culture, the same way all newly hired coaches do.

He spoke in intangibles, swapping his trademark catchphrases from the broadcast booth for rehashed soundbites of the coaches that came before him. The X’s and O’s talk never came. There were some rumblings of transition offense and adopting a defensive mindset—elementary coach speak.

Had his media background convinced him to not tip his hand in front of the microphone? Or did his lack of a coaching background cost him key developmental strategies in game planning and management?

If the latter is true, are his Warriors now paying the price for those missing pieces?

 

Crucial Collapse

The Warriors added veteran Toney Douglas to the mix this summer to bring defense and three-point shooting to their backcourt.

They were not asking him to be Stephen Curry. Not by a long shot.

But with Curry sidelined by a bruised ankle—the left one, not his twice surgically repaired right one—Douglas tried to fill the sniper’s spot during a bout with the San Antonio Spurs on Nov. 8.

Douglas did a remarkably convincing Curry impression. He led all scorers with 21 points, shooting 5-of-9 from beyond the arc. Yet, he was of no more help to the Warriors than Curry in the game’s final three minutes. Douglas was pulled at the 2:58 mark of the fourth quarter and never returned.

Golden State fans wondered what had happened to the hot-shooting Douglas. At least one person in the building, though, wasn’t sad to see him go:

There are no must-win games in November, but if there were, this would have certainly qualified. Not only could the championship-hopeful Dubs have added an impressive notch to their resume, they could have exorcised some demons in the process.

San Antonio ended Golden State’s postseason run in last season’s Western Conference Semifinals. The Warriors haven’t won a regular-season game inside the Alamo City in their last 30 tries, a stretch that dates back to Bill Clinton’s presidency (1997).

This game could have been different. Despite a woeful shooting night, the Warriors had multiple chances to steal a win.

Jackson shouldn’t shoulder all of the blame for his team’s scoreless 2:23 stretch to close out the contest. He worked Klay Thompson into a favorable matchup, as the Splash Brother had Spurs center Tiago Splitter isolated at the top of the key with an almost vacant left side of the floor to exploit.

Panic sirens were blaring in San Antonio:

Rather than create something off the dribble, though, Thompson opted to launch from somewhere just inside the AT&T Center parking lot. The shot, like so many before it, clanged off the back iron.

The Warriors next possession was even more of a mess.

Jackson put the ball in Andre Iguodala‘s hands on the left wing. Thompson was flanked further to the left, Harrison Barnes was on the right side, Andrew Bogut stood a few feet back of the free-throw line and David Lee occupied the right low block.

A couple different problems here from the start.

Thompson’s not far enough into the corner, so his man has a short enough distance to protect against the drive and still close out on the shooter. Neither Iguodala nor Bogut is a shooting threat from that distance, so there’s no reason to crowd a screen should Iguodala break around Bogut.

Iguodala opts to bypass the screen and drives to his left. But Bogut‘s man is already near the basket, as is David Lee’s. Iguodala can either take a contested runner over two defenders or dish back for a low-percentage shot from Bogut.

He opts for the latter.

Lee could’ve knocked down that shot had he switched places with Bogut. This was—to put it politely—a tad outside the 7-footer’s scoring range:

Thanks to an equally inept Spurs attack and two missed free throws by Tony Parker, the Warriors had one final chance to even the score or leave with a win.

Jackson went back to an Iguodala isolation, although this one had a different look.

There are parts of the setup that I like. Moving Iguodala closer to the center of the floor gives him driving options to either side. The shooters are also better placed, so they’re an easy scoring threat if their defenders cheat.

But what in the world is going on under the basket?

Bogut and Lee are basically stacked on top of each other. Neither one can do damage because the other’s defender is also right in his face.

Beyond that, though, why are both of these bigs even on the floor together? Jackson had the chance to get another shooter out there—cough, Douglas, cough—but opted to pack the paint, all but ensuring a crowded path in front of a driving Iguodala.

Iguodala, of course, drove to that same side of the floor, and it was an easy contest for Tim Duncan.

Iguodala is the Warriors’ best slasher. He’s shooting 50 percent on his drives this season, via NBA.com.

But forcing him to double-clutch around the outstretched arms of the 6’11″ Duncan might fall under the umbrella of cruel and unusual punishment. More importantly, when Iguodala’s attempt danced around the rim and out, this game officially fell under the (bad) loss column.

For a team with true title hopes—and a raucous home crowd—giving games away isn’t something the Warriors can afford to do.

With Jackson calling the shots, how many more of these crippling collapses should the Warriors expect?

 

So, How Bad Is It?

I’m not a doctor, but I’ve seen enough medical shows on TV to know that the best way to handle this kind of thing is just to give to you straight.

It’s not as bad as it seems.

Sure, this was a game the Warriors would have loved to have won. Not only was it a measuring-stick matchup against a Western Conference power, it was also their first real test of the season—their first five outings were all decided by double digits.

But this was also a game in which they threatened a 2013 NBA Finalist without the services of their best player. The Warriors showed plenty of heart and integrity, those same intangibles Jackson promised to bring upon his arrival.

There were some coaching blunders at the most inopportune times. But Iguodala isn’t Jackson’s closer; Curry is. Jackson might have struggled to find a capable replacement, but he put his undermanned team in a position to have that problem.

Golden State was actually a good team in close games last season. The Warriors were 5-3 in games decided by three points or less in 2012-13 and 27-17 in single-digit affairs.

The fears over losing assistant coach Michael Malone, Jackson’s supposed X’s and O’s specialist last season, were a bit exaggerated. Even after this misstep, Golden State’s plus-13.2 net rating (via NBA.com) still stands as the league’s best.

None of this happens without Jackson at the helm. Title hopes (!) are mere pipe dreams if the pastor’s still discussing grown-man moves from the booth.

He’s still getting used to this new cast of characters and has a revamped coaching staff to help through the process.

Things like this take time, even if the Warriors’ strong start might suggest otherwise.

 

*Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com. 

 

 

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Chicago Bulls Management Must Value Tom Thibodeau, Keep Him Happy

The Chicago Bulls management needs to keep head coach Tom Thibodeau happy. The degree to which they’re doing that right now is a bit of a debate.

It’s an odd conflict because the Bulls are the only franchise presently employing both a Coach of the Year winner and an Executive of the Year winner who won the award with their present team.  

Probably the biggest question raised is over the team not renewing the contract of Ron Adams, Thibodeau’s lead assistant, against the will of Tom Thibodeau. Typically, while management has final say in the coaching staff, the head coach picks who he wants.  

Newton’s fourth law of motion states, “For every reaction to an equal and opposite action, there is a corresponding media overreaction.”

When Adams was let go, there was a race by media members and bloggers everywhere to hyperbolize the event as much as possible. Eventually, no one could trump the Daily Herald’s Mike Imrem, who proclaimed of the alleged feud between Thibodeau and GM Gar Forman, “The only way it will end is if Forman or Thibodeau is gone or both are.”

It’s already over folks. There is no saving this situation. Slab it, embalm it and bury it. It’s only got one way to end.

Or it’s just what happens when the media gets bored in the summer.

So what’s all the fuss about? Why was Adams let go? According to Imrem:

Thibodeau and his assistants apparently have been on a mission to assume more power in personnel matters. Forman responded by being on a mission to maintain his power and exercised it to put Thibodeau in his place by firing Adams.

So Forman fired an innocent man, disrupting his life to put Thibodeau in his place? That’s a pretty steep charge. Either Forman is actually an evil person or Imrem is stretching.

The more realistic probability is reported by David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune.

Though Forman refused to elaborate, a source told the Tribune late Monday night a pattern of insubordinate incidents since the end of the season concerned Bulls officials enough to relieve Adams of his duties. Thibodeau didn‘t like the decision but had full knowledge it was coming, the source said.

If Adams got fired because he was berating his boss’s boss for not doing his job right, and did so on a daily basis, then it’s little wonder he ended up without a job. If you think that’s just the organization and the way they’re run, go yell at your grand-boss today and see what happens.

It doesn’t quite have the same potential to stir up fans, sell papers or garner links to say, “Obscure Assistant Fired for Insubordination.” No wonder that’s not the angle everyone ran with.

It doesn’t hurt that Gar Forman has reached a level of unpopularity in Chicago that would have him criticized if he saved a baby from a burning building and left the kitten to die.  You can question why he doesn’t elaborate on his side, but what could possibly be gained from that? Is raking Adams over the coals really going to help Forman’s image?

That’s not to say that there is no truth to the allegations that Thibodeau wasn’t pleased with having his lead assistant pulled out from underneath him. It was pretty evident that he was bothered. His curt answers to Zach Lowe of Grantland during a Summer League Q&A are indicative of that. However, they also demonstrate he’s not still dwelling on the issue.

Can you elaborate on why, from what you’ve heard, the team allowed him to move on?

Nah. We’re not going to look backward. We’re going to look ahead. We’re just thinking about next season.

Did that decision create as much tension between you and Gar [Forman, the team’s GM] as was rumored?

We’re fine. We’re just thinking about next year.

Translation: Obviously I was bothered, but we’re grownups and we can move on.

There is room for some grey area between Thibodeau being 100 percent complicit and happy with everything Forman ever did, and being ready to walk out on his brand-new contract because Forman fired his best friend just to spite him.

All accounts cite a common theme to what the underlying issue behind Adams’ complaints to management were: Coaching wasn’t being given the players they needed.

Meanwhile, management was bothered that Thibodeau wasn’t giving the players they had signed enough playing time. Thibodeau wasn’t playing them because they weren’t executing his system.

It seems Adams became Thibodeau’s mouthpiece to management, and management grew weary of the way that Adams was saying what he was saying. Even if you accept he was right (which I wouldn’t say he wasn’t), being right doesn’t mean you’re right.

Behind every married man is a woman who’s said, “It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it!” Adams, in all likelihood was not let go because management was bothered with what he was saying. He got canned for the manner in which he was saying (i.e. yelling) it.

Sure, you can say that management needs a thicker skin, but before you say that, go take the yell-at-your-boss’s-boss test.  

Those who saw Thibodeau in Summer League may have been surprised. Instead of seeing a simmering kettle of stew, they saw the coach as relaxed as he’s been as a Bull. In fact, he probably hasn’t smiled that much since he was a little boy.

Look at the interview here with the NBA crew when he talks about Tony Snell—an actual, relaxed smile comes across his face. In fact, he seems pretty happy (can you use that word for Thibs?) during the entire interview.

He also raves about the acquisition of Mike Dunleavy, citing his ability to play defense as a big part of why he’s happy with the signing. He offers similar sentiments to  K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune in a separate interview.  

Mike has been a starter and played very well. And he has been a bench guy and played very well. I like that he can get it done in shorter minutes. He complements Derrick and Carlos (Boozer) extremely well. He moves well without the ball. He’s a playmaker and an excellent team defender (emphasis mine). We think he’s a great fit.

If Thibodeau didn’t have a say in who they picked up in the draft and free agency, management at least seems to have picked players that he wants to give playing time to. That could and should solve any remaining friction.

The ripple effect here is that, as Nick Fridell of ESPN Chicago reports, Thibodeau is promising to lessen the playing time of both Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, two of the biggest victims of overplay last season.

Thibodeau’s final word on the matter in the Johnson article seems to sum it up.

People are going to read into things the way they want to. I’m fine. All I’m thinking about is getting ready for next season and being a championship-caliber team. That’s it.

He seems happy now, and as long as management and Thibodeau can work together to select players they agree on, there seems little reason to make any more of this than what it was, a hurdle that both management and coaching have cleared.

Management needs to keep Thibodeau happy, but in the grand scheme of things, we can’t overlook the fact that he seems happy right now. Now let’s just hope they can all stay happy. 

 

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5 Things Philadelphia 76ers Management Must Do If This Season Looks Lost

It would be tough to find a fan that wants to admit it, but could the Philadelphia 76ers season be close to lost?

As of right now, it’s still alive and kicking, but a 17-23 start has them starting near the bottom and looking to fight their way up.

Having a bad year and struggling to make the playoffs doesn’t mean that management can just give up and quit their jobs, though. Their main focus needs to be on what steps they need to take to turn the Sixers into a better team for the future.

Being an owner or general manager certainly can’t be easy. You’re pretty much in charge of decisions that will affect a team that thousands, maybe even millions, of people love and care about. On top of that, those fans dictate how much money goes into management’s pockets.

Not an easy job at all.

That doesn’t mean that we as fans should give them any breaks, however. The best way to show that we care is by being diligent in making sure that we give them our best ideas.

How was that for a pep talk?

Okay, so maybe my inspirational speeches are not that great. Before I dig myself a bigger hole, let’s get back to talking about Philadelphia and what their next moves should be.

Here are five things that Philly’s management must do if this season looks lost.

All statistics in this article are accurate as of games played through Jan 18.

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DeMarcus Cousins’ agent meets with Kings management

Cousins agent doesn’t make a request for him to be traded by the Kings

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Magic rips Lakers management

On Wednesday, Magic Johnson took to twitter to voice his opinion over the Los Angeles Lakers coaching drama. His opinion, it turns out, is the same as just about everybody else — he isn’t pleased with the Lakers recent decisions. The Lakers publicly humiliated Phil Jackson, by offering him the job and then hiring Mike D’Antoni. [...]

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Why Lakers Need Phil Jackson’s Leadership and System, Not His Game Management

The Los Angeles Lakers and Phil Jackson are on the cusp of reaching an agreement, but there are some stipulations regarding Jackson limiting the number of road games he would travel to. The Lakers would be well-advised to take that deal, as they need Jackson’s big-picture management more than his in-game management. 

ESPN’s Chris Broussard reports:

When Phil Jackson met with Los Angeles Lakers executive vice president Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak on Saturday, he asked for travel restrictions, a salary in line with what he previously earned with the Lakers and significantly more say over basketball decisions, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

The travel restrictions would limit the number of road games Jackson would have to attend, a source told ESPN.

Two things to focus on here are “significantly more say in basketball decisions” and “travel restrictions.”

The first is far more meaningful than the second. The Lakers are a veteran team, particularly among the starters. The young fella among the starting five, Dwight Howard, is “only” in his eighth year in the NBA. Missing Jackson’s in-game management for a few games on the road is not a huge deal, especially if the first criterion is met. 

The real issue here is whether Jackson will be allowed to run the team the way he wants to run it and add the personnel he wants to when he’s absent.

The Lakers don’t need a full-fledged head coach to manage games. Bernie Bickerstaff did a fine job in the first game since Mike Brown was fired, and will continue to do so. 

What the Lakers really need is a cogent, less discombobulated offense, a figure as head coach whom the players have genuine respect for and someone who has shown that he understands how to adjust his system to the players he has. 

Jackson meets all of those criteria more than any person in the league. Nothing commands respect like 11 championship rings. 

Jackson has also shown flexibility in adapting his system to his roster. Technically, he won with two teams, but in many ways he won with four. 

When Jackson won his first three rings with the Bulls, he had Horace Grant, a bona fide post scorer to complement Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. During his second “threepeat” in Chicago, Grant was replaced with Dennis Rodman, a great defensive player and rebounder who offered almost nothing in scoring. 

In Los Angeles, Jackson’s first three rings centered around the most dominant big man in the game in Shaquille O’Neal. During his second two, he had another dominant big man in Pau Gasol, but one who scored in very different ways. 

What’s interesting about Jackson is that, while it’s true he’s been blessed to have so many great players to coach, he’s been able to adjust the system to fit the players rather than try and shoehorn players into his system. 

The Lakers have the players. That’s not an issue.

What the Lakers need now is a system that utilizes their players the best, not one that tries to reinvent their Hall of Fame careers. Jackson is the perfect man for the job and that is something that doesn’t require extensive travel, but it does require that he has the control of the team he wants. 

So who would coach the Lakers while they’re on the road? One possibility would be Bickerstaff. Another would Scottie Pippen (cue record scratch). That’s right, Scottie Pippen. According to Mitch Lawrence of the Los Angeles Daily News ”Jackson is looking at adding Scottie Pippen, his former Chicago Bulls star, to his staff.”

Combine that nugget with this blurb from Broussard‘s piece:

Should Jackson return to the Lakers, league sources feel he would be interested in bringing along an assistant coach or associate head coach whom he could groom to be his successor. Jackson feels like he owes much of his success to his longtime consultant Tex Winter, the architect of the Triangle offense, and he would like to pay it forward to another young coach.  

Add that with this recent ESPN report that Pippen wants to be a head coach and you have enough dots to draw a straight line.

It’s not all that silly if you think about it. Pippen was always a player who showed a high basketball IQ, he knows the triangle and has the relationship with Jackson. 

Most importantly, he doesn’t have any coaching experience, which, if Jackson is looking to mentor someone, is a plus. He doesn’t have to worry about conflicting ideologies. Pippen is a clean slate. 

If Jackson can run the practices, impose his system and have his protege to coach the team in the few road games where he doesn’t visit, it could be the best of both worlds for the Lakers, as they’d have the coach for now and the coach of the future to run Jackson’s system once Jackson inevitably grows bored again. 

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