thought as recently as last week he'd be leaning toward retirement, but he's found a different answer eight days later. Jackson believed he was in the worst of health, lamenting how it's become more challenging to get through an NBA season after two hip replacements, heart problems, a sore knee and painful kidney stones. But medical tests convinced him he could still make it. He acknowledged he's pretty much accomplished all there is in the game with his 11 NBA titles, that is of course, until a reporter mentioned he'd have the chance to three-peat for the fourth time in his coaching career.
"That's ridiculous," Jackson said.
Jackson's decision to coach the Lakers in the 2010-2011 season was announced by the team Thursday. And it speaks to how the Lakers are now in a stronger position to three-peat.
Whether or not Jackson returned, his legacy would've remained etched in stone. He has the most championships of any NBA coach. He established a new Lakers franchise record for regular season victories this season. He ranks first all-time in postseason history in winning percentage (69.7%) and victories (225). And Jackson's teams are 48-0 in playoff series after winning Game 1. More importantly, he demonstrates why managing egos and channeling talent trumps X's and O's and constant yelling.
“Count me in,” Jackson said in a statement Thursday. “After a couple weeks of deliberation, it is time to get back to the challenge of putting together a team that can defend its title in the 2010-11 season. It’ll be the last stand for me, and I hope a grand one.”
As impressive a feat it would be for Jackson to three-peat twice with the Bulls and the Lakers, that's not why Lakers fans should be celebrating Jackson's decision to stay. Beyond knowing this is a sign of good health, Jackson's return already addresses the Lakers most pressing off-season question only a day into free agency. While the rest of the basketball world can watch where LeBron James ultimately lands, the Lakers know the major piece of their roster will be there to fight off any teams trying to stock up for a shot against the Lakers.
Sure, there are still off-season questions the Lakers must address. The team and Derek Fisher are still in negotiations. The team is weighing whether they'd commit Shannon Brown to a long-term contract. They still have to see if any teams are actually interested in Jordan Farmar. And they'll determine whether second-round picks Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter will make the roster. But those issues are secondary compared to what Jackson's return means to the team.
With the Lakers' Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum locked in to long-term deals, Jackson will coach a team that possesses great chemistry. Various injuries prevented the chemistry from fully blossoming, but Bryant, Gasol, Odom and Bynum plan to take it easy this off-season. Artest experienced a learning curve upon his arrival, but things finally clicked late in the Finals and he'll likely listen more to Jackson's suggestions next season. Complacency may set in from time to time, but Jackson's "last stand" remark surely provides the motivation they'll need.
Had Jackson decided not to stay, the Lakers would've had to worry about other issues. Beyond having to hire another coach and possibly new assistants, the Lakers would've experienced other growing pains. There would have been a transition phase with adopting to a new system. There would have been a chance the team wouldn't receive the coach's message as well as Jackson's. And the team may have fractured apart without Jackson's calm presence to oversee everything.
“We’re extremely pleased that Phil has decided to return,” Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said in a statement. “With this most recent championship, we’ve now won five titles in the ten years he’s been our head coach and have been to the Finals in seven of those ten years, which is amazing. He’s not only the best coach for this team, but quite simply the best coach in the history of the NBA.”
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Photo: Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, along with family and friends, celebrates the NBA championship after defeating the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the Finals. Credit: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times.