SALT LAKE CITY — Shaquille O’Neal believes in Phil Jackson and the triangle offense, and he said neither has been successful with the Knicks because “guys are stubborn” and are being ball stoppers.
O’Neal won three NBA championships playing for Jackson with the Lakers and in the triangle. He fully supports the system — something he says the Knicks’ main players don’t.
“When you’re a player and you’re used to doing something one way and then you bring in the system, a lot of guys don’t like to give up their habits,” O’Neal said after serving as a TNT analyst for the Knicks’ loss Monday night in Los Angeles to the Clippers. “With the triangle, the ball can’t stop.
“If you look at how the [Knicks’] second team runs the triangle, guys that don’t have a lot of experience in the game or have a lot of habits, they run with a lot of force. There, late in the fourth quarter, they got a couple of back-door plays. It definitely does work.”
O’Neal didn’t mention anyone by name, but Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose frequently stop the ball from moving. Yet O’Neal thought Jackson assembled a playoff team by adding Rose and Joakim Noah to the nucleus led by Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. It hasn’t gone the way anyone expected.
“When Phil put this team together, I said, ‘OK, it’s going to work if they embrace the triangle,’ ” O’Neal said. “I liked it. But again, the ball can never stop in the triangle.”
The Basketball Hall of Famer speaks from experience. He said he was “probably one of the main problems” when Jackson became Lakers coach because he didn’t want to change. But then O’Neal did. He said “it opened it up for me. It also made things easier for me.”
Things haven’t been easy for Jackson. An 11-time NBA champion as a coach, Jackson is 76-158 in three full seasons as Knicks president, and his system is regularly being panned. But O’Neal thinks Jackson will turn the Knicks around, and that he’s holding up fine amid the losing.
“He’s not used to it,” O’Neal said. “He’s definitely taking a beating. Definitely going to have to make some changes this summer, but he’s a strong guy. You’re not going to really hurt his feelings.”
And O’Neal doesn’t believe this has hurt Jackson’s legacy.
“I don’t think it does,” he said. “Just another chapter in his life, just another challenge in his life. When you’re dealing with certain people everybody has to be on the same page.”
O’Neal wouldn’t say Jackson has to coach for the Knicks to be successful, adding “I don’t want to disrespect [Jeff] Hornacek.” But O’Neal said assistant coach Tex Winter, who was the innovator of the triangle and brought it to Jackson, did most of the talking. O’Neal said Knicks associate head coach Kurt Rambis is “very knowledgeable” and suggested he could play Winter’s role with the Knicks.
O’Neal also tried dispelling the popular opinion that the triangle only works if Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, O’Neal and Kobe Bryant run it. He gave credit to the role players who helped the Lakers capture three straight titles.
“You always hear people say, of course the triangle worked with Mike and Scottie, Shaq and Kobe, which is true,” O’Neal said. “But if you look at all our games it was the others that propelled us to that next level.
“I have three championships because of the triangle and also because of Derek Fisher, Big Shot Bob [Robert Horry], Rick Fox, guys that because of the triangle were able to be involved in the offense. When you’ve got a guy that holds the ball, nobody is really involved, everything is out of whack.”