Phil The Facilitator
Good lord, where will Kobe soap opera go next? Each day, the trade winds seem to be blowing in a different direction.
Last week, which seems like about 8 months ago in KobeTradeDrama years, Peter Vecsey offered this thought in the NY Post:
- [Phil] Jackson is the lone person who has any shot of disarming this dispute. Both sides trust him more these days than ever before, I'm informed.
[Jerry] Buss is listening to Jackson's advice to keep Bryant if compliant. Bryant may not be a true believer but, for the moment, Jackson has his attention; the Zen Hen is trying to persuade Bryant everything is being done within reason to boost a roster that boasts noticeably more positive qualities than given credit.
But the Vecsey piece made me think back to when Phil did deftly handle a trade demand that had a chance to devastate one of his championship teams: 10 years ago in 1997-98, when Scottie Pippen drama hovered over the "Last Dance" Bulls team for the first half of the season -- and seemed for a while like it might torpedo Chicago's hopes for a sixth title.
Pippen had reached his breaking point after years of a strained relationship with Bulls GM Jerry Krause. Part of Pip's frustration stemmed from the fact that he was the 122nd highest-paid player in the league in 1997-98, and he wanted a new contract. Another part was a matter of respect - he wanted to be able to spend his entire career as a Bull, yet Krause seemed to continually be shopping him despite all that Pip had done to contribute to Chicago's five championships to that point.
On a West Coast road trip in late November, Pippen - who was rehabbing after foot surgery that would sideline him for the first 35 games - unloaded, telling Kent McDill of the Daily Herald, "I ain't coming back [after injury rehab]. I want to be traded. I want to go to Phoenix or L.A."
Further, Roland Lazenby reported in his book Blood on the Horns that the scene got uglier when Krause boarded a team bus from the airport to a hotel in Seattle:
- Obviously intoxicated, Pippen began yelling at Krause about signing him to a new contract or trading him. The harangue went on and on and turned increasingly uglier.
"Why don't you trade me?" Pippen screamed.
- "For Scottie's situation," Jackson said later, "everything kind of broke. The venom kind of broke, and he said, 'I can't play for this team anymore.' He had crossed a bridge with the organization. It was very disappointing. And it took him a while. We had to come back here and really work with Scottie."
"That doesn't mean you have to leave the team," Jackson said.
"Scottie thought he had shown himself the door, because he had had too much to drink," the coach explained. "It was over the edge."
The team returned to Chicago just before Thanksgiving, and Jackson arranged for the team therapist to spend some time with Pippen counseling him on his anger. Over the break, Pippen phoned Jackson late one night for a long discussion during which the coach realized that Pippen seemed fairly set in his position not to play for the Bulls again. The coach knew that the team couldn't be successful without Pippen, that changing his mind would take the best efforts of a variety of people, including Jordan, [Ron] Harper, Jackson himself and several teammates.
"Unfortunately, it took him a while," Jackson said. "He wasn't ready to play for another two months. And so it was a situation where he had time to cool out, to look at it and say, 'Well, my options aren't very good. I really don't have another place to go, and this is the right thing to do.'"
"We let Scottie be Scottie," Harper later said, "and let him grow into what he will put himself into. We are all by his side."
Part of the strategy, though, included Jackson and Jordan openly expressing displeasure with Pippen's position. That Monday, Dec. 1st, the coach and star player both suggested that they felt betrayed by Pippen's demands. "It's all right to hold it against Scottie," Jackson told reporters. "We care about Scottie, but we're going to hold this against Scottie because he's walking out on us, there's no doubt about that. Some things are personal and some things are public. Publicly, we like Scottie, but personally there's always going to be a... residual effect of having gone to bat for Scottie."
Jordan had already told reporters the previous Saturday that he was "disappointed, very disappointed, that (Pippen) hasn't been able to put aside his dealings with management."
Jackson and Jordan said they wouldn't have returned to the team if they'd known Pippen was going to leave. "There is that kind of feeling: 'Hey, we came back to do this job together and Scottie ducked out the door,'" Jackson said.
Resolving the issue could take six weeks or more, the coach pointed out, and the team could become greatly affected by the distracted.
Of course, the Kobe situation is much different - he is the team's lone superstar, rather than the no. 2 player, and his team is far short of a championship contender as currently constructed.
Bringing Kobe back into the fold seems like it will be much tougher for Jackson than it was with Pip, but who knows, maybe if the Lakers can acquire a Jermaine O'Neal, Phil could still make it happen.