Phil Jackson – Zen master, book author, motorcycling savant, wilderness apostle and basketball guru – says he doesn’t want to coach again but, in all likelihood, he’s lying to himself.
I’ll bet his 11 NBA championships he will coach again, in Tinseltown, at Staples Center – for your Los Angeles Clippers.
Since 1999, the Lakers and the Clippers have shared Staples Center but not the L.A. spotlight. The Lakers are forever Showtime; the Clippers have always been How Low Can You Go Time. No longer. With Blake Griffin and Chris Paul aboard, the Clippers suddenly are riveting and relevant, like a Mark Wahlberg movie.
Uh, but there’s a problem.
At the moment, the Clippers coach is Vinny Del Negro. Now, I have nothing against Vinny Del Negro, but – at the end of the day and, more importantly, at the end of any NBA game – he’s still Vinny del Negro.
Del Negro came to the Clippers last season after the Bulls fired him; the Bulls made the conference finals once freed of Del Negro.
Del Negro reminds me of this unbelievable bargain you pick up at Tuesday Morning, then you go home, and by Friday evening you realize why they were selling it at such a cheap price.
Del Negro doesn’t make your team better, he just makes sure all the players get on the team bus.
For those of you who never have seen Del Negro coach an NBA game, it’s sort of like watching a head-bobbing pigeon in the park searching the path for breadcrumbs.
I don’t want the Clippers to call a timeout, because I have no idea what Del Negro might tell them.
Which brings us to Jackson, famous for not calling timeouts. In Chicago, he once replaced Doug Collins and then led the Michael Jordan Bulls to six NBA titles in nine years; Del Negro is essentially Collins in a darker suit.
(Comedian John Caponera used to do a hilarious impersonation of Collins during a Bulls timeout: As the team gathered on the bench, the dapper coach would walk out onto the court away from the players, adjust his necktie, pull on his shirtsleeves and, then, just before the break was over, come back to the huddle and whisper, “Give it to Michael.” I’m not sure Del Negro would’ve even been that sharp.)
Jackson, 66, retires every several years, but after a few weeks of transcendental meditation and tahini tofu salads, he gets restless for the triangle offense and Joey Crawford. Besides, what else is the self-exiled former Lakers coach going to do? Buy an NBA League Pass? Play Twister nightly with Jeanie Buss? Wander through Big & Tall discount warehouses?
Jackson knows how to pick his spots – Jordan and Scottie Pippen with the Bulls, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in his first Lakers tenure, Bryant and eventually Pao Gasol in his second Lakers go-around. And, now, he could inherit Shake ‘n Blake and CP3.
One big downside for Jackson – owner-wise, he’d be going from Jerry Buss to Donald Sterling; that would be like going from escargot to fish sticks. Jackson also has tweaked Sterling in the past, saying the so-called Clippers curse could be “karma in effect,” intimating Sterling is being victimized by his own bad deeds.
But the bigger roadblock for a Jackson-Clippers marriage: The dowry. Sterling tends to be – how shall I say? – thrifty. He might offer Jackson $350,000 a year, plus one-month’s free rent at one of his myriad apartment properties.
Heck, I suspect Sterling found Del Negro on eBay.
Anyway, there is no call for Del Negro’s job today, but at season’s end, after the Clippers plunge below reasonable expectations, there might be. Beyond the “Lob City” hype, this is probably a 48-win team – in a full season – that should survive a playoff series or two.
Del Negro, though, is programmed for 42-40 and/or a postseason collapse.
Inevitably, Del Negro’s Clippers will be a tease. And, after they disappoint, somebody from the Clippers will dial the number to a tall man sitting in a hot tub – probably in Montana – with a Ganesh necklace and a cell phone. He’ll answer the call.
Ask The Slouch
Q. With so many football teams using a no-huddle offense, how can I grab a beer or go to the bathroom? (Bob Willis; Silver Spring, Md.)
A. You apparently are unaware of new technology: You can now pause live TV; in fact, in certain homes, you can also pause a live marriage.
Q. Why no PBR mentions lately? You on the wagon or did you switch exclusively to perky Pinot Grigios? (Martin Stone; Pittsburgh)
A. I am reevaluating my relationship with Pabst, due to ownership changes. In the meantime, I am sucking down Orange Crush.
Q. Should Thai tennis player Noppawan Lertcheewakam change her name to a more broadcast-friendly one, and, if so, what would you suggest? (Howard Walderman; Columbia, Md.)
A. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Q. When it’s cold, football players forego long sleeves to give the appearance that they aren’t affected by the weather. So when it’s hot, why don’t they wear jackets and gloves? (Karl Kunc; Burke, Va.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.