If Phil Jackson steps down, the Lakers need to go with Brian Shaw


shaw_coach.jpgFor the next week, Lakers fans are heading to their local churches and lighting candles with a prayer that Phil Jackson decides to stay on to coach the Lakers. Fans are nervous, they are doing anything they can — meditating on it, offering rum to Jobu, burning incense to please the gods. There are PETA members in LA that would sacrifice a goat or two if they thought it would help. They are that serious.

Jackson is everyone’s option number one — including the Lakers front office. They want him back. But what if he decides turning it up to 11 was enough?

Then the Lakers have to choose between Byron Scott and Brian Shaw.

Not exactly those two, although they would be the frontrunners. But Scott and Shaw represent the philosophical crossroads the Lakers would be at. Stay with the current system or blow it up.

On one hand is Scott, representing a dramatic break with the triangle offense. Jerry Buss much preferred the Showtime era style of play to the triangle. Hey, we all did. But there is no arguing with success, and the triangle works. And Buss is too smart to dump Jackson just because the offense isn’t aesthetically pleasing enough. Jackson would have to do something far worse, like sleep with the owner’s daughter… oh, wait, bad example.

Scott would bring some old-school Laker history, a direct tie to the Showtime era. His offenses have been point-guard led (Jason Kidd and Chris Paul). The Lakers would run again. The coach wouldn’t just sit there, he’d stalk the sidelines and yell at the refs giving a cathartic release to the fans that Jackson does not.

There would need to be other changes. Derek Fisher may be the worst point guard in running the break in the Association, the Lakers would need someone else in that role (or, just keep Jordan Farmar and turn him loose).  The role players would need to be less Luke Walton and more Shannon Brown.

And the Lakers fans could hope that inevitable mutiny of the players to Scott — it happened in New Jersey quite publicly and the wave was just about to break public in New Orleans when he was let go — came after this championship window was closed. Scott is not a long-term answer, but the Lakers may not care, because it would be Showtime again. The fun would be back.

But you know what is the most fun? Winning.

And the triangle wins. This Lakers roster wins. And it was built for the triangle.

That brings us to Brian Shaw. The Lakers lead assistant. He represents keeping things largely the same, not trying to make a big philosophical shift in the middle of a championship window. Don’t change horses in the middle of the stream.

Shaw has no head coaching experience and Scott has led a team to two NBA Finals — where Scott’s team lost to the Lakers and the triangle. Shaw can get the players ear because they know him. Kobe trusts him, Kobe has been through the wars of the playoffs with him as a player and coach. Read Phil Jackson’s last book — before Game 5 of the 2004 NBA finals it was Shaw Kobe was calling as his confidant. Kobe trusts him, and if he does the team will.

The Lakers have won two consecutive NBA titles and can win a few more — why would you go with a philosophical change of style right now? Is Shaw more of a risk than changing how you do things, changing on the court systems? Continuity matters? Think it’s a coincidence that two teams that have not changed how they have done things for years — and built to that style of play — were the teams tipping off in Game 7 of the NBA finals?

Shaw is a gamble, but a smart gamble. The Lakers need to be what they are if Jackson leaves, and Shaw is that.

Unless the Lakers are looking for real drama, not just wins.

51 Questions: Do the Phoenix Suns finally have a playoff formula?

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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Do the Phoenix Suns finally have a playoff formula?

It has been five years since the Phoenix Suns made the playoffs, tying the franchise record for longest playoff drought. It’s the fourth longest active drought in the NBA (Timberwolves at 11, Kings at nine, and Pistons at six).

Think about it this way: The Magic, Sixers, and Jazz have been to the playoffs more recently than the Suns.

Phoenix hasn’t bottomed out on a rebuild, they’ve actually been pretty good — they surprised everyone and won 48 games two seasons ago, then had 39 wins last season when things went very wrong and injuries crushed the team after the All-Star break. However, in a deep Western Conference pretty good isn’t good enough.

Suns management and ownership wants that to change. They want back in the playoff dance. Now.

It’s why they went hard after LaMarcus Aldridge this summer, coming in a surprising second to a Spurs team that nobody was likely to catch in that chase.

This summer the Suns made other moves to address needs. They went out and got Tyson Chandler as a free agent. The first reaction was he was there to provide a shot blocking and defensive quarterbacking, two things the Suns sorely lacked. However, just as importantly, they needed a vocal locker room leader, a vacuum that was part of the problem in Phoenix’s implosion last season.

The Suns also needed shooting, they went out and got Mirza Teletovic and drafted Devin Booker.

It’s easy to think the Suns regressed because they lost a lot of talent since the last trade deadline — Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Gerald Green, Brandan Wright — but they believe the pieces they have now fit together better.

Phoenix believes it can make the playoffs; it thinks it finally has the right formula.

Maybe. They will be in the mix. But a four things have to happen to make that a reality.

First is Chandler has to lead a defensive renaissance on this team. Last season they were average, 17th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, but Chandler can help change that. First, he gives them defensive rebounding that they lacked. He gives them a quarterback that they needed to call things out and have everyone on the same page (reports of how he talks on defense are already pouring out of camp). And he helps protects the paint — that means Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, and P.J. Tucker can pressure the ball more and take risks out on the perimeter knowing Chandler can erase some mistakes.

The second is an obvious one: Bledsoe and Knight need to be able to work well together. They are going to share playmaking duties, and both are going to spend time working off the ball, both need to be ready for that mental adjustment. We haven’t seen that much yet, we need to see how it works out.

Third, there needs to be shooting to space the floor. Bledsoe is a penetrator who is a career 32 percent from three, while Knight shot just 31.3 percent from three after being traded to the Suns (likely due to ankle injuries that required off-season surgery). Those two men will be running the pick-and-roll with Chandler, who sets a good pick, rolls hard and can finish, but doesn’t have shooting range. The Suns other two starters are likely P.J. Tucker, who is not a huge threat from three but shot a respectable 34.5 percent from there last season, and Markieff Morris, who is a career 32.8 percent from three.

If I’m an opposing defense, what’s to keep me from going under picks and packing the lane against the Suns? Phoenix needs Knight to return to the guy who is a career 36 percent from three, they need Morris to improve from the outside, and they need guys like Teletovic and Booker to play key minutes and space the floor at times.

Fourth, and finally, they need the potentially volatile mixture of an unhappy Morris and a coach in Jeff Hornacek in the last year of his contract not to combust. Everyone is saying all the right things at the start of camp, and this is why guys like Chandler and Ronnie Price were brought in, but there is the potential for things to go sideways, especially if some early losses pile up.

The biggest hurdle for the Suns in ending their playoff drought is they are in the Western Conference.

Even if all four of things mentioned above go right for them — if they run and hit more threes plus play better defense — this is likely a 45 win team (give or take a few, and probably take). The problem is that in the West that may not be enough. Barring injuries, there are likely seven lock playoff teams in the West — Spurs, Warriors, Clippers, Rockets, Thunder, Grizzlies, and Pelicans. That leaves the Suns battling teams such as the Jazz, Mavericks and maybe the Kings for that final playoff spot. It may take more than 45 wins, and things are going to have to break the Suns’ way to get there.

Maybe Robert Sarver gets his way and the playoff drought ends this season, it’s more likely than snow in Phoenix this winter. But I wouldn’t bet much on either happening.

LeBron says “get it done” message was for both Cavaliers, Thompson

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Everything LeBron James does and says gets magnified and scrutinized.

So when he put out this photo on Instagram standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Tristan Thompson and the caption “get it done” it seemed a message to the Cavaliers.

Get it done!!!! Straight up. #MissMyBrother @realtristan13

A photo posted by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

LeBron clarified that on Sunday, saying this has become a distraction, and the message was for both sides to bend, as reported by Dave McMenamin of ESPN and Chris Haynes of the Plain Dealer.

When Thompson didn’t sign the qualifying offer he surrendered a lot of leverage, the Cavaliers don’t have to raise their five-year, $80 million offer — but reportedly they still would, a little. Thompson and his agent Rich Paul have pushed for a max contract, but that’s not happening.

At some point, the two sides will come to an agreement. For the Cavaliers, this is a distraction, their star is unhappy with that, and ultimately if they are going to make a title run they need the energy and rebounding Thompson brings (even if it is just off the bench). For Thompson, he can’t make up a year of lost salary, he has to come in and start getting paid at some point.

The two sides will get it done. Eventually. Likely before the season tips off.