Phil Jackson's determination about coaching future won't deter others from trying to convince him to stay
Having gone this route several times in his coaching career, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson understands the skepticism.
He had mulled leaving the game multiple times during his storied coaching career, only to return rejuvenated and in most cases with another championship ring. An ugly divorce between Bulls management and Jackson led to his departure in 1998 after six championships. It was presumed the same fate would rest with the Lakers after his hasty departure following the 2004 season, capped most notably with his book, "The Last Season," which exposed many inner conflicts within the organization. And Jackson appeared on the verge of leaving again after the 2010 title run, only to need a week's rest in Montana to find the lure of a fourth three-peat too tempting to pass up.
But with Jackson describing in a statement the 2010-2011 season as his "last stand," he insists there will be no wavering.
"Those things have gone on that contributed to the fact that this is the last year, but maybe," Jackson said. "This year, there is no maybe."
Rolling his eyes, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant wondered why the conversation sparked again in the middle of January and was not saved for the end of the season. But then he waxed nostalgic about a relationship that was once fractured: "It'll be a sad day. I'll be sure to get together with him and go fly fishing at some point."
But there will be many who hope Jackson doesn't get to that point.
Owner Jerry Buss said he's not looking forward to planning for Jackson's departure. General Manager Mitch Kupchak expressed a willingness to negotiate once the 2010-2011 season ends. And Lakers forward Luke Walton told me at media day that he and other players plan to try to persuade him to stick around once the season ends.
"I know it's not probable, but I would like to see Phil stick around another year or two," Lakers assistant coach Frank Hamblen told me recently. "I don't think he will, but I didn't know if he would stick around for this year, so there's always a possibility."
Jackson's recent statements suggest otherwise, including in an interview with ESPN's Hannah Storm to be aired Sunday during the Lakers-Celtics game: "Most everybody believes I won't fulfill this last-stand promise and I will come back and coach again," Jackson said. "I really want to do this for myself."
Jeanie Buss, Lakers executive vice president and Jackson's longtime girlfriend, echoed those sentiments recently on "The Dan Patrick Show" and in late November to The Times' Lakers blog: "I think he made it clear that this will be the last time around with this team." Even if Buss is echoing Jackson's statements, Hamblen believes she'll continue persuading him to stay. Meanwhile, the rest of the team remains insistent on just finishing the season with another title, believing then that those chips will take care of itself.
"We've been together for so long," Bryant said. "I'm going to make sure I do everything in my power to send him off in the right way."
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