Jeff Van Gundy: Confusing a system (like the Triangle Offense) with reason for success is ‘a huge mistake’


Jeff Van Gundy coached the New York Knicks for seven seasons from 1996-2002, and had his fair share of battles with Phil Jackson, who won three of his six championships with the Bulls during the first three seasons of Van Gundy’s reign.

Now in a role as analyst for ESPN, Van Gundy downplayed just how much Jackson’s vaunted Triangle Offense had to do with his unprecedented level of success.

Speaking to reporters on a conference call to promote the start of the upcoming season, Van Gundy said it would be the players, and not the system, that determines wins and losses for the Knicks this season.

From Marc Berman of the New York Post:

Van Gundy was asked Wednesday why more clubs don’t run the triangle offense like the Derek Fisher-coached Knicks are doing, considering Jackson won 11 coaching titles with that old-school system.

“The triangle itself is just an offense based on freedom of the ball to go to different places, everybody feeling involved,’’ Van Gundy said. “It’s a good thing. It won’t be the triangle itself that will be the reason they win or lose. It’s going to come down to Carmelo Anthony playing exceptionally well. [Iman] Shumpert and J.R. bouncing back with a big year. J.R. Smith playing well. It’s not going to be because of a system.

“I think anybody confusing a system with a reason for success is making a huge mistake. Systems don’t win games. Players do. All you try to do in any system you incorporate is put players in their areas of strength and try to hide and minimize their weaknesses. The triangle for [Scottie] Pippen and [Michael] Jordan with a lot of shooting around them was tremendous system. Same with [Kobe] Bryant and [Shaquille] O’Neal. Then [Pau] Gasol and Bryant. It can work and other systems would’ve worked and they would’ve won it.’’

It’s true to a certain extent, because every championship team has had at least one Hall of Fame caliber talent on its roster, and often times has had multiple players who fit that criteria.

But the fact that Jackson’s system is responsible for 11 titles with different personnel likely means there’s a little more to it than Van Gundy, who at one time had an ongoing feud with Jackson, may be willing to acknowledge.