Phil Jackson is one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time, having amassed 11 championships over a career that spanned 20 seasons.
If there’s a knock on him, Jackson’s detractors will remind you that he only won by having similarly great, Hall of Fame caliber players on those rosters. There was Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in Chicago, and there was Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles.
Jackson ran the Triangle Offense in all of his championship seasons, and has made sure that the Knicks will do the same this year in his new role as the team’s president of basketball operations. Shaq isn’t so sure it will succeed, however, thanks to New York not having at least two superstar-level talents in place.
“For the triangle to work, you need to have two superstars,’’ O’Neal said. “It’s been proven over time. Look at what Phil needed to win his championships in Chicago. Then look what he had in L.A., with me and Kobe. You have to have two superstars playing in the triangle to win championships.’’
This is true of Shaq’s personal experience, of course, and it’s also true of those Bulls teams. But while Pau Gasol played at a high level alongside Bryant during the Lakers championship seasons in 2009 and 2010, few would elevate him to superstar status.
A more accurate way of framing things would be to point out just how deep a team needs to be from a talent perspective in order to win a title. Capable players filling their roles consistently, while having the ability to step up and dominate in bursts are what helps championship teams to succeed.
The Knicks are struggling in their early days of learning the offense, which is to be expected; players are running through only one or two options before things quickly devolve, and are often times waiting for one action to finish before initiating the next. The team will get the hang of it if the players are diligent, but wins might still be tough to come by given the relative talent level in place — which won’t validate O’Neal’s assertion, even if it might seem like the results are doing so this season.