EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Phil's Philosophy is working to perfection after undergoing some heavy scrutiny over the winter.
Considering what Phil Jackson has accomplished as an NBA coach in the last 11 years, his recent success with the Los Angeles Lakers shouldn't come as a surprise.
''He's a winner, kept us well-prepared, let problems work themselves out,'' Shaquille O'Neal said the other day.
''He's the best coach in the NBA,'' Kobe Bryant said. ''He might be the best coach ever.''
Those are interesting observations considering Jackson was criticized when O'Neal and Bryant squabbled in January because he left it to them to resolve their differences.
When things were at their shakiest between O'Neal and Bryant, Jackson used the expression ''sandbox stuff'' to reporters in describing the behavior of his top players, who ultimately worked out their differences.
He got his message across.
''I've seen them all, I've been with them all,'' longtime Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn said Wednesday of the Lakers' coaches over the years. ''He's the most unusual man I've ever known.
''He can sit on the sidelines over there while the other team runs up 17 points and not uncross his legs or call a timeout. His ability to control a game is astounding to me.''
Regarding Jackson's handling of the O'Neal-Bryant dispute, Hearn said: ''There is a perfect example of what I mean about the most unusual man I've ever known. Most coaches would have kicked butt, or two butts.''
But not Jackson.
O'Neal had a terse response for those who believe Jackson has been so successful because of the outstanding players he had at his disposal, including Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, O'Neal and Bryant.
''Every coach that's won a championship has had players, right?'' O'Neal said. ''OK, then, so whoever said that is a freaking idiot.''
The Bulls won six championships in an eight-year span in the 1990s, and the Lakers are on the verge of winning their second title in two years under Jackson.
In addition, they could become the first team ever to sweep through the playoffs should they win four straight against Philadelphia or Milwaukee in the NBA Finals, which begin June 6 at Staples Center.
Jackson enters the Finals having won 19 straight playoff series as coach of the Bulls and Lakers, surpassing the record of 18 by former Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach.
Jackson's teams have a 137-49 record in the playoffs for a winning percentage of .737 -- by far the best in NBA history.
His victory total is second behind Pat Riley's 155, and if the current Lakers win the championship, as expected, it will be Jackson's eighth as a coach -- one behind Auerbach's record total.
''There's no doubt about it, the fortunate coaching record I have is due to having teams that are ready to win and capable of winning,'' Jackson said. ''The guys on the court are what count.
''If they don't have a way to get along together, no matter what we do strategically, all the preparation we do, you can be the greatest X-and-O guy in the world, nothing works. It's all on them.''
True, perhaps, but somebody's got to guide the players toward getting along.
And that's what Jackson's done.
''He has my utmost respect,'' Lakers forward Rick Fox said.
''Look at the team they had before Phil got here,'' said Lakers forward Horace Grant, who also played under Jackson in Chicago.
In their final pre-Jackson action two years ago, the Lakers were swept by the Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals.
They returned the favor in a most decisive manner this year.
''You know, when you win, there's enough credit to go around for everybody,'' Jackson said.
The 55-year-old Jackson said he got the Lakers coaching job ''probably by reputation and not by skill, because people know that I really didn't have the skill to have this job.''
He signed a five-year, $30 million contract in June 1999 -- not long after the Lakers had been swept by the Spurs.
''It was more or less that I could deal with people as a coach that had managerial skills, which I demonstrated terrifically this season,'' he said, before breaking out in laughter.
Actually, it's no laughing matter -- that's exactly what he did.
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