After Winning 11th Title, Phil Jackson Still Unsure of Future
After winning one for the toe with his 11th NBA championship ring, Jackson didn't want to talk much about whether he will return next season as Lakers coach. But Jackson, who becomes a free agent, did drop one strong clue.
"That's a wonderful thing,'' Jackson said of whether beating Boston on Thursday night at the Staples Center for yet another NBA title enhanced his chances of returning. "That's as much as I'll talk about it. It does improve my chances.''
Coaching in the first Finals Game 7 of his illustrious career, Jackson led his Lakers over the Celtics 83-79 in what was certainly one of his most anxious Finals games. The Lakers trailed by 13 points in the third quarter before coming back to win on a night that featured dreadful shooting by both teams (40.8 percent by Boston and 32.5 percent by the Lakers).
Jackson reiterated what he had told FanHouse last week, that he will make a decision on his future within a week after the season. Jackson, who has had both of his hips replaced and is concerned he might need work done on his bad knees, will see a doctor first to make sure his health is good enough to continue coaching.
"I've got to take a deep breath,'' Jackson said. "I've got to take some time and think about this. This was great. I'll make that decision in a week.''
There also is the issue of Jackson, who made $12 million this season and earned a bonus (reported as $2 million by ESPN.com) for winning the title, having revealed he has been asked by Lakers owner Jerry Buss to take a pay cut next season.
Regardless, there's little question the Lakers want Jackson back next season as coach.
"He knows how bad I want him back,'' said Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who won his second straight Finals MVP award by averaging 28.6 points in the series, although he struggled in Game 7, shooting 6 of 24 for 23 points. "I've told him that. I've been openly blunt about that, and told him how much I want him back. Let's go for it again.''
If Jackson can lead the Lakers to another crown next season, and you better believe they'll be the favorites, it would mean four three-peats in his career. He earned rings with Chicago from 1990-93 and 1995-98 and with the Lakers from 1999-2002 before now having won a second straight title for Los Angeles.
"We're all in the same boat when it comes to that,'' Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw said about not knowing what Jackson will do. "He's not going to tip his hand one way or the other. And I'm sure we'll all find out at the same time.''
Well, Jackson has tipped his hand. For instance, in an interview last month with FanHouse, he said, "This is the place that I've coached the last 10 years and I anticipate doing it more.''
For now, Jackson was just happy to survive Thursday. His Lakers trailed 49-36 early in the third quarter.
"It wasn't well done, but it was done,'' Jackson said. "And we did it with perseverance.''
Jackson, who now has two more rings than second-place Red Auerbach for the most by a coach in NBA history, is never one to get overly excited about a championship. And he didn't this time.
"No, it's not,'' Jackson said when asked whether this one was any more emotional than others. "There's no residual as far as beating Boston (a longtime Lakers rival) or anything like that. ... The closing stanza at Chicago (in 1998) was perhaps as high emotionally, and also running through the series in 2001 (going 15-1 in the playoffs with the Lakers) was one of the most perfect ball that I ever saw a team play that I have had in the playoffs.''
Jackson was given one more chance to try to set this championship apart from the many others.
"I frequently cry,'' Jackson said. "I really do. But not (Thursday).''
Maybe that's an additional clue from Jackson that he will return, perhaps believing Thursday wasn't his coaching hurrah. With Bryant, now one shy of tying Michael Jordan's six rings won with the Bulls, pushing for Jackson to come back, that's a pretty good reason right there.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson