Mike Monroe: Pop sees possible Phil successor down on the farm

After his Mavericks chased Phil Jackson into retirement a few weeks earlier than planned, Rick Carlisle famously speculated how long the Lakers coach “ … can go to Montana and meditate and smoke peyote, or whatever he does there. I don’t know. He’s going to get bored, and I mean that in an endearing manner.”

Gregg Popovich wonders how long another old coach can watch corn grow without feeling the pull of competition.

Shouldn’t the Lakers ask Jerry Sloan if he would like to discuss replacing Jackson?

“I just can’t see him staying on the farm,” the Spurs coach said. “Jerry’s too freakin’ competitive.”

It’s hard to imagine Sloan, who swears he is perfectly content on his Macleansboro, Ill., farm, adapting to the go-go life in La-La Land.

Adapting to a coaching role that includes replacing a legend?

Easier than shucking an ear of corn.

“L.A. is very ‘un-Jerry,’ but he’d have the respect, that’s for sure,” Popovich said. “People would listen.”

They would listen because Sloan is a Hall of Fame coach and because he remains just as competitive as the most intense of players.

Sloan’s approach to basketball, and life, is so foreign to Jackson’s, he could be the perfect replacement.

Here’s something easy to imagine: Kobe Bryant, executing high pick-and-rolls with Pau Gasol or Lamar Odom, as John Stockton once ran them with Karl Malone.

Part of Jackson’s genius was embracing an offensive system, Tex Winter’s triple-post offense, and sticking with it.

Sloan, too, is a system coach who demanded perfect execution of the offense he borrowed from Dick Motta and others.

Now Sloan is on the farm, and Jackson is meditating in Montana.

At 62, Popovich has watched fellow 60-something coaches ease into retirement, forced or otherwise. With Jackson gone, Popovich and Boston’s Doc Rivers are the only active coaches who fully comprehend what it takes to wring an NBA championship from a team.

“I’m just awestruck at what Phil’s accomplished,” Popovich said. “To a degree, I know what you have to go through to do that, but we’ve done it four times. He’s done it 11 times.

“To go through all those playoff games, each one a war and a drain, an unbelievable emotional and psychological test; for him to have done that 11 times makes me awestruck.”

Popovich never ate dinner or shared a bottle of wine with Jackson. Amazingly, he never had a single conversation with him until February. Then, he phoned him before the All-Star Game, a courtesy call to let Jackson know he was starting Tim Duncan, rather than Pau Gasol, as a replacement for injured center Yao Ming.

“I wanted him to know,” Popovich said, “before the press found out.”

The fact they weren’t fast friends doesn’t diminish Popovich’s sincere respect for Jackson’s professional achievements and personal vision.

“He exhibited unbelievably great perspective,” Popovich said. “He knows it’s basketball, period, and nothing more. He’s been great in applying life’s lessons to it. Once it’s done, it’s done. You do the best job you can and try to relate it to people’s lives and take your satisfaction out of the group that you’ve formed and how well they have progressed together. That’s the real joy of it, and I think he gets that as much, or more, than most ever have.

“He seems to relish what the group can accomplish and how to get it to that point. Then, when it’s over, you win or you lose, and it seems he is very able to just move on, because life does move on and is important beyond basketball.”


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