Yesterday’s news was that the Lakers canceled a practice scheduled for Georgia Tech. Turns out it wasn’t entirely canceled. Just sort of.
“An unofficial practice,” was how Phil Jackson — the Zen Master, or Big Chief Triangle, as Jeff Van Gundy once dubbed him — put it tonight. And we writers eat this stuff up. Intrigue on the hardwood … love it!
The back story: The Lakers aren’t happy with the way they’ve been playing. This is the final stop on a five-game road trip, and they’ve lost two of the past three. They managed but 75 points in Oklahoma City — after which Jackson told reporters, “If they’re not going to respond to your coaching, why do you want to come back [next season] and coach them?” — and on Monday they were beaten in New Orleans by the sub-.500 Hornets. So the Zen Master took the unusual step of canceling practice, then holding one. Sort of.
“Select players” were invited. Just guessing, we can assume they were the Lakers’ subs, who were outscored 42-12 by the Hornets’ reserves. This did not sit well with the holder of 10 NBA titles. “It makes you want to throw up,” Jackson said.
Never mind that the Lakers have won 54 games and are all but locked in the as the No. 1 seed out West. They haven’t been playing well — they lost all three games on a previous Eastern swing earlier this month — and their big offseason move of letting Trevor Ariza leave and importing Ron Artest is being widely critiqued.
A Jackson pregame briefing, you should know, is unlike any other. Every word is parsed for subtext, and sometimes the subtext isn’t so subtle. A reporter mentioned that Pau Gasol, who has often been accused of being a finesse player, described himself as having played “very, very tough” this season.
Said Jackson: “I think two ‘verys’ is too many.”
Asked about sub Sasha Vujacic, who didn’t play in either of the Lakers’ past two games, Jackson said: “He had a run-in with the coaching staff in Oklahoma City. He knows what he has to do to get back in our good graces, but he hasn’t yet done that.”
But the Zen Master had one nice thing to say about a bench player on somebody’s team. Of the Hawks’ Jamal Crawford, Jackson averred, “is the odds-on favorite to be Sixth Man of the Year.”
Crawford’s reaction: “He said that? Tell him thanks.”
And that’s where we are: The Lakers arrived at Philips Arena tired from their trip but with one angry coach. The Hawks, meanwhile, are happy. With that, we’ll open the floor for comments, questions and advice for the Zen Master. (Mine would be something like, “Bench Kobe. You’re better off without him.” But maybe that’s just me.) I’ll be here until somebody wins, and I’d enjoy your company. Thanks, as ever, in advance.