Tha Sports Junkies 101

Phil Jackson is Wrong and He Knows it

Phil Jackson Pecan Creek Times/ via Flickr


In 1991, Phil Jackson won his first of eleven rings as a coach with the help of Triangle genius Tex Winter. That championship was won with Michael Jordan at the helm of the offense and sparked a revolution in the NBA. The Triangle Offense was a series of principles that was used to pick apart a defense with relative ease. The NBA world was in shock. Not only did the Bulls have the best player, they also had the best system to use him. Because of that, Phil Jackson was propelled into coaching stardom where he eventually solidified his place among the greats by coaching dynasties in two different cities.

Since his tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers ended, he hasn’t had much success. He took up a General Manager position with the New York Knicks where he has had some trouble implementing his famed offense. He has gone on a long, public coaching search but that isn’t the problem in his eyes. Although he hasn’t found the right person to really drill the Triangle correctly into his players, he also hasn’t found the right players for the triangle either.

He isn’t talking about the skill set of his players. They were all good enough to make it to the NBA. What he is talking about goes deeper than scoring the ball. In an interview with Charley Rosen of Today’s Fastbreak that took place in 2015, Phil Jackson had the following to say about the current state of the NBA:


“Today’s players simply lack the skills to play the triangle. They know how to play one-on-one, catch-and-shoot, and they’ve mastered crossover dribbles, spins, playing off of screens and step-back shots. They don’t know how to execute things like inside-reverse pivots and other basic footwork. They have no sense of timing or organization. They don’t really know how to play five-on-five basketball.”


The problem with this quote is that all the skills Phil mentioned are meant to be taught by the coach. The basic principles of timing and organization are generally introduced with the implementation of an offense. One would think an offense as complex as the Triangle appears to be, would stress the importance of timing before any wrinkles were added. This is what Phil should have addressed. He should have simply said that the previous coaches weren’t doing their job correctly. Instead, he essentially said teaching the Triangle is useless because no one is fit to run it. However, this would be Phil acknowledging fault in his actions and that may be too much to ask from him

Nobody knows that offense more that Phil Jackson. In turn, nobody can pin point what exactly is wrong with his team better than he can. He knows all about complexity of The Triangle so he should be the authority on what is going wrong. That would be the end of the story if the Triangle Offense actually wasn’t all that complex.

Many teams in the NBA run some form of Triangle action as a part of their playbook. They do this because behind all the options, cuts, passes, and screens, it’s relatively easy to teach. Every spot on the floor has a role and every role comes with a set of rules. Once you get that ingrained into players, it can be run like basic motion. To think that Phil doesn’t realize this is absurd. Watching other teams run the Triangle against him in the middle of Madison Square Garden has got to hurt him a little. This is why he says the coaching search was so important. He needed to find someone who would be willing to push the Knicks harder now so they can succeed easier later.

As an example, you could point towards Tom Thibodeau’s tenure in Chicago. As a part of his offense, he ran a good amount of Triangle that was particularly successful. Through the constant criticism he received from fans and media about his coaching style, he created a well oiled machine in Chicago. He used his players extremely well but his even greater defensive schemes were the story in Chicago. This is what labeled him as a “defensive coach” and that really took away from the fact that he had an incredible understanding of the offensive side of the ball. However, that’s understandable when you introduce something like ICE defense to the NBA.

Interestingly enough, Thibs did that with some notable players that changed teams recently. Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, as products of the Thibodeau offense, already know how to run the basic Triangle and are now a part of the Knicks. In fact, the small version they ran may have been a bit more complex than what they are going to run in New York as a system.

Phil Jackson is truly trying to make his offense work and hide his lapses with handling the organization. Signing D Rose and Joakim was a good step in the direction but the real story was that coaching search. One would think that the obvious solution would be to sign Thibodeau himself. However, both Phil and Thibs want different things now. Thibodeau wanted a big part of a young team and Phil was offering a small part in an older team.

Thibs eventually ended up signing with the Timberwolves who could give him exactly what he wanted. In response, Phil looked to another coach who already knows a lot about the Triangle- whether Jeff knows it or not.

Jeff Hornacek, who is a master of post play, does a great job of utilizing the most important spot in the triangle offense. In phoenix, he ran a lot of plays out of pinch post and horns that worked to free up his guards. High post is essential to the Triangle and is already a staple of Hornacek’s offense which makes him a great fit. Of course, Phil Jackson, the architect, has known this the entire time and is setting himself up to erase the bad image that he, and the triangle has received over the past couple of years. Because, at the end of the day, this really had nothing to do with players.

The Triangle isn’t dead. It’s been a part of the NBA for a longer time than Phil will give credit for. While he slights the youth in today’s NBA to hide the subpar talent and underutilization of a coaching staff that was in New York for the last couple of seasons, many coaches have adopted the Triangle and are running it without having problems with people. It’s quite odd that Phil Jackson himself is having trouble locating talent in the league that could handle his genius. Maybe the other teams in the League are getting lucky.

Whether or not Jeff Hornacek is a success in New York won’t be known until well after the season starts. One thing is a guarantee though. The New York Knicks are a better team, and have a better coach than they did before the summer started. Phil Jackson, for what looks like the first time since he took up the GM position, has made an impact for the Knicks. They have a young talent, a go to scorer, veteran presence, a good coach, and a great system to tie everything together. If everything goes to plan, one can safely assume that Phil won’t be going around criticizing NBA talent until everything in New York falls apart again.