PHOENIX – Phil Jackson said Tuesday he “just can’t imagine” coaching any other team next season. But the Lakers' coach refused to close the door on leaving for other opportunities, while a person with ties to him told CBSSports.com that he would not return to L.A. next season with a significant pay cut.
On reports in the past 24 hours that the Bulls and Nets have reached out to Jackson or his representatives through “backchannels,” Jackson said, “Those channels have not reached me. I have no awareness of that at all.”
But given the chance to shut down the rumors and commit to the Lakers or retirement next season, Jackson said, “I’ve always had problems committing. … I’ll leave it open and just say that, as of now, I have not made up my mind about coaching or not coaching next year. That’s all I can say, really, truthfully.”
On reports indicating the Bulls’ interest in orchestrating a reunion with Jackson in Chicago, Jackson said, “I have no, at all, desire to go back to Chicago to coach the Bulls.” As for the Nets, whose bid for Jackson would be fueled by deep-pocketed Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov, Jackson said, “I’d like to have a vodka with him. He seems like a very interesting young man.”
“I have not entertained any conversations about [coaching elsewhere] right now, so I just can’t imagine it,” Jackson said. “That’s not to say it’s beyond the wildest dreams or never would happen, but it’s not part of my conscious thought.”
Jackson does not have a contract for next season, and has acknowledged that he has been asked to take a pay cut from his $12 million salary. Asked if he knew what “backchannels” may have been operating on his behalf – or on behalf of the teams – Jackson said, “No I really don’t. I’m not aware of how you would go about doing that, unless you’re talking about Mark Twain stuff or Huckleberry Finn – those kind of channels rather than the river.”
Jackson, 64, got a lot of laughs for that line, but this is no laughing matter for the Lakers. While Jackson reiterated his hunch Tuesday that there’s a 90 percent chance he’ll either be coaching the Lakers next season or retiring, a person with close ties to Jackson told CBSSports.com that it’s too early to set odds. If Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss insists on a massive pay cut, the person said, Jackson would not return. Published reports have indicated that Buss is seeking to pay Jackson $5 million next season, a pay cut of $7 million.
The source close to Jackson indicated that the question of how much Jackson’s pay would be reduced is, to some degree, semantics. Given that he is close to retirement age, a significant portion of Jackson’s salary could be deferred in the form of retirement benefits that he would see without penalty in two years.
Another person with knowledge of Jackson’s situation said it would be difficult to imagine him leaving the Lakers with Kobe Bryant in the prime of his career and having just signed a three-year extension. The person equated it to overtures that frequently came Jackson’s way when he coached Michael Jordan in Chicago, saying Jackson never would’ve left Jordan in his prime, either.
But one of those sources said circumstances could change with the possibility of Jackson becoming bait to lure LeBron James to the Bulls, who have maximum salary-cap space to sign him and a quality roster that Jackson views favorably. The person said the Jackson/LeBron situation was plausible, considering Jackson would have the chance to complete a potentially irresistible trifecta – coaching Jordan and Bryant, and then capping his career with James.
All of this continued to unfold about an hour before the Lakers took the floor to play the Suns in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.
“They’re no distraction,” Jackson said of the reports. “Not to me, and not to the players, either. It’s a distraction, I think, to other teams and I think a disservice to coaches that are really seeking jobs and have opportunities to go to those towns.”