In defense of the Triangle

Phil Jackson

Phil Jackson

A preponderance of media Muppets have dismissed Phil Jackson’s (and Tex Winter’s) triangle offense as being anywhere from old-fashioned to being successful only because of the superlative talents of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kobe Bryant.

To back up these claims, critics point to the poor records that resulted when Winter, Jimmy Cleamons, and Kurt Rambis instituted the triangle during their respective stints as head coaches in the NBA.

It says here, however, that all of these naysayers are wrong.


Let’s start with Winter’s somewhat abbreviated term at the helm of the Houston (nee San Diego) Rockets: From 1971 to 1973, his record was only 51-70. But what the critics overlook is the highly significant back story.

The Rockets’ best player was Elvin Hayes, a low-post big man who was a high-volume scorer and rebounder. Turned out, though, that scoring and rebounding was all that the Big E was interested in doing. He refused to set picks, pass, or move without the ball — all necessities for the triangle to function properly.

In addition, Hayes’ fundamentals were so poor that he could barely stumble through the basic drills that Winters implemented. To avoid being embarrassed, Hayes claimed that his ankles needed to be re-taped, or that a shoelace broke, or that he had a toilet emergency — anything that would excuse him from participating. As a result, the Rockets offense was a Hayes-centric mess and the team was understandably unsuccessful.

No surprise that Hayes was not particularly fond of Winters — going so far as to publically state that Tex was “the Anti-Christ.”

Cleamons failed in Dallas (28-70 from 1996-97) simply because three of the starters were sleeping with the same woman and refused to pass the ball to their rivals.

Rambis compiled a miserable 32-132 record while coaching the Minnesota Timberwolves from 2009-2011. Besides having an inadequate roster, Rambis was also plagued by a back-stabbing staff of assistant coaches — all of whom were hired by management without his consent, and all of whom undercut his relationship with the players, and actively schemed to get his job.

To rebuke the argument that Jackson’s triangle won eleven championships only because of the heroics of MJ, Pip, Shaq, and Kobe, let’s look at the Bulls’ 1993-94 campaign. That’s when Jordan was playing baseball, and Pippen was the team’s only superstar. However, it should be noted that Pippen was never the kind of go-to point-maker that MJ, Shaq, and Kobe were. Indeed, Pippen was always more of a facilitator on both ends of the court.

Even so, the Bulls ran the triangle to near-perfection and won 55 games. If not for an infamously horrendous call by referee Hue Hollins in the endgame of a crucial playoff game against the Knicks, Chicago would have at least survived into the championship series.

I’ve always maintained that the best job Phil did in his coaching career was with that particular team.

So, then, why were the Knicks so pathetic last season?

Because he inherited a ball club loaded with ego-monsters and subpar players. In truth, the season past was more about the future than winning games in the there-now.


Next time, an analysis of Phil’s in-season trades, as well as his recent draft picks, and free agent signings.