Miami Heat; LeBron James: Pat Riley or Phil Jackson in 2012-13?

By Paul Hazard

Will Erik Spoelstra coach the Miami Heat next year if they cannot overcome the loss of Chris Bosh?

Is Dwyane Wade done with Coach Spo?

Better yet, will Spoelstra even coach Game 4? (Of course he will…right?)

The disaster that is the Pacers series has only fueled speculation on the coaching situation in Miami.  Only one thing is immediately clear:  a 2nd round playoff exit by the Heat will result in either:

*The break up of the Big Three

*A coaching change

Though Erik Spoelstra is an affable man, who has won in the NBA with and without LeBron James, it’s unlikely that he would survive a disastrous 2nd round exit to a solid-but-not-great Pacers team without a superstar.  So the question is,

Who would LeBron James and Dwyane Wade want to play for: Pat Riley or Phil Jackson? 

Let’s Analyze our Hall of Fame Candidates:

Riley:  “Riles”

*5 NBA Championships (4 LA, 1 Miami)

*1210 Wins (64% Winning Percentage)

*171-111 record in the playoffs

*3 time NBA Coach of the Year (89-90, 92-93, 96-97)

*Has burned bridges in LA and NY.  Finished 15-67 his last year in Miami (only losing season in career)

*Assembled the current roster and coaching staff, coordinated the infamous “Decision” and the “Post-Signing” Pep Rally that “went up in smoke”.

*Wrote The Winner Within and Showtime

*May have already “pushed” out a solid coach in order to take a team to the next level and appease a superstar (Shaq). Stan Van Gundy, care to comment? (20 games into the 2005-2006 season Riley took over for Van Gundy.  He he rode Wade and Shaquille O’Neal to the title, going 16-7 in the playoffs).

Jackson: Zen Master

*11 NBA Championships (6 Chicago, 5 LA)

*1155 Wins (70% Winning Percentage)

*229-104 record in the playoffs

*1 time NBA Coach of the Year (95-96…that’s it, really!!!)

*Has burned bridges in Chicago and LA (time and time again), Dated the “Boss’ Daughter” while working for the LA Lakers  (Impressive)

*Wrote Sacred Hoops, Spirtual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior, More than a Game, The Last Season: A Team in Search of Its Soul and Journey to the Ring: Behind the Scenes with the 2010 NBA Champion Lakers.

*Took Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant to the “next level” and made them champions.  Before the Zen Master, all of these all-time greats were closer to Charles Barkley and/or Karl Malone than Bill Russell. 

Could he do the same for LeBron James?

Outside of Spoelstra, James has been tutored under the “watchful eye” of Paul Silas (just endured one of the worst seasons ever) and Mike Brown (Tremendous Man, Tremendous “Defensive Coordinator”, and architect of some of the worse half court sets in the history of the NBA; “LeBron, just go 1 on 5”).  Jackson or Riley would represent an authority figure whose rings would demand LeBron to alter his attitude and game for the promise of a championship.  Coach Spo just doesn’t have the clout to push LeBron to the “next level”.

If you are LeBron, it’s time to play for a legend.  You are a 3-time MVP. Every year you are ripped by the media for your inability to win a title despite your historic regular seasons.    You are perceived as a choker in the 4th quarter, even though your current coach won’t run a play for you in the last minute of a game.  Isn’t it time to play for a legend who understands the difference between greatness and immortality?

Both coaches come with tremendous pedigrees and enormous egos.  Both coaches come with the unquestioned ability to bring out the best in others, but their methods are polar opposites.  Riley controls peripheral opponents with his reliance on over-preparation, intense and long practices, and his ability to foster a “family mentality”.  Riley also won with 2 distinct playing styles:  Showtime in LA and Thug ball out in NY.

Jackson’s success is rooted in his unorthodox ability to create a “pack is stronger than the wolf” mindset and his team-orientated Triangle offense.

If LeBron was still with the Cavilers or any other team, I believe Phil Jackson would be the ideal coach for LeBron.  The Triangle offense would showcase LeBron’s passing skills and basketball IQ, while James could play as “Pippen” and Wade could play as “Jordan”.  Bosh would fit the triangle nicely and with a better constituted bench, the Heat would immediately be favored to win the NBA Title.  (Jackson’s teams traditionally play tremendous defense, especially in Chicago. “Da Bulls” had their Doberman Defense which took teams completely out of their half court sets.  Imagine Wade and James playing D in that sort of system, wow!)

However, Pat Riley created this Dream Team, and it is only right that he attempts to recreate the 2006 magic he and Wade conjured up to savage the Big Three.  Riley may be the perfect candidate to save the franchise from both its biggest asset and shortcoming: LeBron James.  Riley was able to “rebuild” Magic Johnson twice: after Magic “encouraged” the firing of Paul Westhead in 1981 and after Magic “LeBroned” the 1984 Finals to the Celtics.  Riley masterminded the “Big Three” and hand-picked Spoelstra to guide this overhyped, flawed and much-too-thin Miami roster.  His fingerprints are everywhere, and he needs to held accountable for this epic soap opera. 

While Spoelstra will ultimately take the fall if the Heat fail to win the East this year, deep down Riley understands that it is his superstars in James, Wade and Bosh whom have failed the organization: 

*James: with his inability to be accountable night-in and night-out for the failings of his club, and his 4th quarter disappearing acts.

* Wade: whose star is fading more and more with each passing week, thanks to his inconsistency and the team’s 14-3 recored without him in 2011-12.

* Bosh: whose lack of post-play and his efforts on the boards prevent the Heat from having a true “inside-outside” attack.

Ultimately, Riley has to face the “Man in the Mirror” and recognize that the only person who can save this franchise from the mess he made is…


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