The big news about 30 hours before the NBA draft didn’t involve John Wall, Evan Turner or DeMarcus Cousins. It revolved around a 64-year-old coach with artificial hips and a finger on the pulse on the coaching and free agency landscape – a fellow named Phil Jackson.
One of the biggest dominoes of the offseason didn’t exactly tumble Wednesday, but it’s teetering – toward retirement.
“I’m leaning towards retiring but I have not made up my mind,” Jackson told reporters as the back-to-back champion Lakers conducted their season-ending exit interviews.
Big news. Or is it? The Zen Master carefully worded the most definitive statement yet about his future, leaving the door open to returning for a chance at a three-peat. Given that Jackson conceded during the NBA Finals that he’s been told a significant pay cut would be required if he returned to the Lakers next season, this could be Phil’s way of forcing Dr. Jerry Buss’ hand.
It also could be a graceful way for the 11-time champion to exit stage left, turning the reins over to former Laker Byron Scott – whose candidacy for the Cavs’ coaching job is officially on hold while Jackson makes his final decision.
Scott is serious about the Cleveland job, and the Cavs are serious about him. But everyone involved understands that Scott’s dream job is coaching the Lakers. While Kobe Bryant has been adamant that he wants Jackson back, he’d be amenable to Scott taking over if that’s the way it had to be.
In some ways, it would be the perfect way for Scott to validate his coaching resume – taking over a team that is loaded with talent and poised to win at least one more championship while Bryant is still in his prime. One of the knocks on Scott is that he wears out his welcome in the locker room after two or three years, and that’s about all this Lakers dynasty has left, anyway.
Jackson has said there’s a 90 percent chance that he’s either coaching the Lakers next season or not coaching at all. Depending on your skill level with mathematics, that means there’s a 10 percent chance he’s coaching somewhere else. To that point, the Clippers and even the Cavs will continue to hold out hope that they could lure Jackson. Both presumably would offer a multi-year deal, whereas Jackson’s tenure with the Lakers has been made up of a series of one-year deals in recent years. But it’s difficult to believe that Buss would stand idly by and watch Jackson jilt Bryant for LeBron James. Could you ever imagine Jackson doing that to Michael Jordan in his prime? Also, at this point Jackson has earned the right to be taken at his word that health and the grind of the NBA season – 114 games for the Lakers this past season from preseason to Game 7 of the Finals – are the only factors he’s considering.
So we wait for Phil to make his next move, which will affect a lot of other moves across the basketball landscape.