Alongside Hall of Famer Red Auerbach and future Hall of Famer Gregg Popovich, the two greatest coaches in NBA history that immediately come to mind are Phil Jackson and Pat Riley. They both coached the Los Angeles Lakers, and have had some of the best players ever on their teams. Phil Jackson won 11 NBA championships as a coach, including 6 with the Bulls and 5 with the Lakers. Having the luxury of coaching Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal certainly helped him achieve these extraordinary accolades. Phil Jackson was also an executive for the New York Knicks, where he had one of the greatest scorers ever in Carmelo Anthony.
Meanwhile, Pat Riley won 5 NBA titles with the Lakers and 1 with the Miami Heat in 2006 as the head coach. Riley also won a title in 1980 as an assistant coach, and 2 titles as an executive in 2012 and 2013. That means that Riley has 9 championships whenever he was directly involved in the Miami Heat team and organization. But which Hall of Fame personality had the better group of players? By deciding the best 12 players that each legend has ever had as a coach or executive, we will decide on which team comes out on top in a 7-game series.
Phil Jackson’s All-Time Team
Starting Lineup: Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Shaquille O’Neal
Bench: Ron Harper, Glen Rice, Carmelo Anthony, Lamar Odom, Toni Kukoc, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Pat Riley’s All-Time Team
Starting Lineup: Magic Johnson, Dwyane Wade, James Worthy, LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Bench: Tim Hardaway, Byron Scott, Jimmy Butler, Chris Bosh, Charles Oakley, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning
Obviously, the starting lineups of both Jackson and Riley are ridiculous. In terms of raw talent and ability on both ends of the floor, no team in NBA history comes close to fielding a starting lineup like this. It is beyond perfection in every way for both sides. For Team Phil, Kobe Bryant will likely handle the ball as his team’s primary point guard. Bryant has stated on occasions how he hates bringing the ball up, but that will be necessary to allow Jordan his space to score at will.
Of course, Scottie Pippen will also share ball-handling duties as he did with the Chicago Bulls alongside Jordan. Rodman will be the defensive specialist and will own the paint next to arguably the most dominant physical force in NBA history. O’Neal and Rodman will be tough to handle on the boards, and they complement each other perfectly.
For Team Riley, his lineup has the perfect mix of unselfish superstars and team players. Magic and LeBron are arguably the two greatest on-court leaders in NBA history and will be the better team on the fast break with Wade and Worthy running alongside them. Having Kareem Abdul-Jabbar means that O’Neal will be forced to play defense every game of the series, which will minimize The Diesel’s impact on both ends of the floor. In a nutshell, the starting lineups will be about dominant individuals against team stars.
Phil Jackson’s All-Time Team: Ron Harper, Glen Rice, Carmelo Anthony, Lamar Odom, Toni Kukoc, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Pat Riley’s All-Time Team: Tim Hardaway, Byron Scott, Jimmy Butler, Chris Bosh, Charles Oakley, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning
It is far too difficult to distinguish between the benches of both sides because there are superstars and Hall of Famers that can come in the game in a heartbeat. Team Phil has arguably the best possible scoring option in Carmelo Anthony to come into the game because the man was unstoppable with the New York Knicks with Jackson as an executive. Anthony averaged 24.7 PPG during his 7 seasons with the Knicks and will form a nice partnership with Lamar Odom who is a versatile forward who can pass, rebound, and score.
Kukoc, Gasol, and Bynum can all score the ball in one-on-one situations and provide exceptional size to deal with Team Riley’s squad. Glen Rice is one of the best shooters in NBA history (40.0% career 3-Pt FG) and Ron Harper is one of the best lockdown defenders ever. For Pat Riley, he has a host of different types of players to throw at Phil Jackson’s team. Hardaway and Scott can handle the ball and score, while Jimmy Butler can be relied upon to play lockdown defense against the best scorer on the court. Bosh and Oakley provide size, but the main men off the bench are Ewing and Mourning. It will be difficult for Gasol or Bynum to handle these two bigs and that will give Team Riley the best advantage in the series.
Phil Jackson Team Advantage
Phil Jackson’s side has one glaring advantage: scoring. Michael Jordan, a 10-time scoring champion, is the greatest offensive player we have ever seen. Whether he attacks the rim, posts up, or pulls up from mid-range; he is almost perfect as an offensive player. That means when he is not double-teamed, the opposing team is at risk of giving up 40 or 50 points by the Bulls legend. On this team, double-teaming Jordan is out of the question.
Kobe Bryant will destroy Team Riley if he has space to operate, which means man-to-man defense will be employed against Team Phil. Covering Shaq in a single cover might even be a bigger disaster because he is too powerful and too dominant against any defender in history. The presence of Abdul-Jabbar will be a nuisance for Shaq, but The Diesel will still be dominant. Rodman and Pippen only have to do what they do best to allow Jordan, Kobe, and O’Neal to shine’ while the bench comes in for some more offensive firepower.
Pat Riley Team Advantage
Team Riley will be the greatest “Showtime” incarnation in the history of basketball. Magic, Worthy, and Kareem were a force in that regard; but adding in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade makes this an unstoppable team on the break. Whenever Kareem or James grab rebounds off misses, Team Riley will almost always score. They are too inclined to run on the break, and even the best defense in NBA history will not be able to stop them in that regard.
Team Riley will also not have the problem of selecting the main scorer on the team because everyone plays the game the right way. Magic and LeBron are the best floor generals in NBA history, and Riley’s bench has go-to scorers in the post in Ewing and Mourning. Riley’s squad is strong on both ends of the floor, but their calling card will be the fast break.
As great as Team Riley is, there is simply no betting against Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal. Egos aside, there is too much firepower and mental toughness for Team Riley to overcome, and limiting any of these 3 stars to under 30 PPG in the series is too big of a mountain to climb. The series will go 6 games, with an OT victory in Game 6 deciding the outcome once and for all. Magic Johnson and LeBron James are exceptional floor generals and the likes of Ewing, Mourning, and Abdul-Jabbar are a handful; but they lack the raw half-court scoring that Team Phil brings.
In a competitive series like this, fastbreak opportunities will become limited as games go on. That means Team Riley’s greatest strength is taken away, and that means Worthy and LeBron are forced to be perimeter scorers. Kareem gets the skyhook anytime he wants and will wreak havoc, but that is not enough to counter Jordan and Bryant. These are the two greatest perimeter scorers we have ever seen, and they will place their foot on the opposing team’s neck as soon as they catch fire. Adding in the scoring of O’Neal and Carmelo and the lockdown defense of Pippen, this series goes to 6 with the greatest player of all-time winning Finals MVP.
Winner: Phil Jackson’s All-Time Team vs. Pat Riley’s All-Time Team 4-2
Finals MVP: Michael Jordan (35.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 5.0 APG, 2.5 SPG)
Credit for the idea: Buckets
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