With Phil Jackson committed for next season, Mitch Kupchak doesn't foresee any other 'major' off-season changes
Throughout the week, Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak regularly checked in with Phil Jackson while he spent time at his Montana lakeside home, filling him in on details such as Brian Shaw's interview for Cleveland's coaching position, the NBA draft and the upcoming free agency class. With each phone conversation, Kupchak found Jackson engaged and fully interested on the team's latest move while relaxing from a grinding NBA season.
Surely, Kupchak knew any medical test that suggested poor health could drastically change Jackson's demeanor. But with how Jackson sounded on the phone, Kupchak felt as if he'd be back at least for another season, a sentiment he shared with reporters even as Jackson suggested he was leaning toward retirement. That's why Kupchak didn't feel nervous when he picked up the phone Wednesday night to hear the official news that Jackson would come back for another season.
"I always felt as if he was engaged," Kupchak said to reporters Friday at the Lakers' practice facility in El Segundo. "You can tell if somebody's not going to come back that they're really not engaged in future decisions for an organization. I felt as if he was engaged and I felt good about where we were."
As a result, the Lakers have taken care of a major component of their off-season movement. Kupchak doesn't have to hire any replacement coach. He doesn't have to look for assistants and trainers. And he can sell to free agents that Jackson's return ensures more stability and continuity to a team poised to "three-peat." It surely makes Kupchak feel a little less stressed when he's monitoring NBA TV and ESPN for the latest on free agency moves.
Still, there's plenty of business Kupchak needs to address. He anticipates locking up a formal agreement with Jackson by next week, confirmed Brian Shaw would be a coaching candidate if Jackson retires after the 2010-2011 season and plans to continue talks next week with Derek Fisher, whom The Times' Broderick Turner recently reported is seeking a multiyear deal for about the same salary he made last season ($5.048 million).
There are also uncertain elements. On whether he's had face time with free agents outside of the team, Kupchak said, "We have not met with any prospective free agents other than who is on our own team." On whether Kupchak has made any offers to free agents outside the team, Kupchak said, "We wouldn't confirm or deny that." On whether it's accurate regarding the team's reported interest in swingman Mike Miller, Kupchak said, "We would not comment on anyone we may have contacted or did not contact. That's not how we do business."
Still, at least the hard part is out of the way. "It certainly felt good to know he's coming back," Kupchak said. "For the organization, it's a huge plus with our stability."
-- Mark Medina