GM senses Phil Jackson will retire
DALLAS -- Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak believes Phil Jackson this time.
Jackson might've played coy in what was likely his final postgame press conference, joking "I haven't answered that, have I?" when pressed for a definitive statement on whether he'd coached his final NBA game Sunday. But Kupchack says he believes Jackson's decision to retire is final this time.
"I think this is it," Kupchak told ESPNLosAngeles after the Lakers were swept out of the playoffs by the Dallas Mavericks 122-86 on Sunday. "We'll sit down and talk, but I've gotten no indication that he won't retire.
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"We just talked briefly and I thanked him for what he's done for the organization. It was a pleasure to work with him. Everybody who is a coach in this league works endless hours. I'm not going to say he works harder than any other coach in this league. He certainly works as hard as any of them.
"But he's different. He's got a feel that I think a lot of coaches don't have."
After an unprecedented 11 championship rings in 20 seasons, Jackson said Sunday that he is finished with coaching.
"All my hopes and aspirations are, this is the final game that I'll coach," Jackson said. "This has been a wonderful run."
Jackson then added a parting shot for NBA commissioner David Stern.
"I go out with a sour note after being fined $35,000 this morning by the league, so that's not fun having a feeling like I'm being chased down a freeway by them," Jackson said. "But, as Richard Nixon says, 'You won't be able to kick this guy around anymore.' "
Jackson was fined for comments made on Saturday about the officiating on Pau Gasol in the series.
As for the Lakers' plans to replace Jackson next season, plans that must now be dealt with sooner than anyone expected, Kupchak wasn't ready to go into much detail on Sunday.
"There hasn't been a lot of time spent on talking about a successor," Kupchak said. "So I really don't want to start into an area that I'm not prepared to talk about right now."
A future without Jackson, isn't something Kobe Bryant is ready to think about.
"Phil ... it's tough for me to put into words what he's done for me," Bryant said. "I grew up under him. So, the way I approach things, the way I think about things, not only in basketball but in life in general, a lot of it comes from him because I've been around him so much. So, it's a little weird for me to think about what next year's going to look like."
Lakers point guard Derek Fisher shared his sentiments.
"As a group, the next 12, 24, 36 hours go by and we're able to reflect on the fact that we may have played for the best coach in professional basketball for the last time, I'm sure it will be tough to swallow for everybody," Fisher said.
"So many moments go into what [Jackson and I have] been able to accomplish as a player and a coach. I don't think I'll ever be able to repay him in anyway for what he's been able to do for me, for this team, for the city, for the franchise. There'll never be another one like him and regardless of who's the coach going forward, things will be different and we'll miss the big guy on the sideline, but we all just want him to be happy. He deserves to ride off into the sunset and do whatever it is he wants to do the rest of his life and we're thankful for him."
Lakers forward Ron Artest, however, remained skeptical that Jackson is truly leaving for good.
"He might come back, you never know," Artest said. "He has his own thoughts and his own reasons for whatever he does. I don't know what's his reason, but, if he says he's not coming back, I'm not believing that until I see it."
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle doesn't really believe this is the end for Jackson, either.
"My belief is that he'll retire for a while," Carlisle said, "but I don't know how long you can go to Montana and meditate and smoke peyote or whatever he does there. I don't know. He's going to get bored. And I mean that in an endearing way.
"But, look, we're talking about the greatest coach in the history of our game."
Mavs owner Mark Cuban has been involved in many wars of words with Jackson over the years. But not now.
"I hope he doesn't retire," Cuban said, repeating what he told Jackson after the game. "I think he's great for the league."
Four of Jackson's five kids flew to Dallas for this game, in case it was the end. On Saturday, Jackson called that "a drag that I don't need," but by Sunday afternoon he was probably happy to have them around. They sat near the Lakers bench, wearing yellow hats with Roman numerals marking his 10th and 11th championships.
The Lakers received widespread criticism for their play in this series, the loudest voice coming from former Laker great and current vice president Magic Johnson, who suggested Saturday that the team should be broken up in the offseason if it lost this series.
"I thought they were unnecessary at this time," Jackson said before the game of the Lakers legend's critical stance. "Not surprised ... Magic, he talks openly."
Fisher was irked by Johnson, however. When asked if the series sweep was the result of simply a poor matchup for the Lakers or an indication that the team roster lacked the proper resources to win a championship, Fisher said, "I don't know. Ask Magic. Ask Magic what's going to happen. All I can say is, it's only been a pleasure to be a part of the Los Angeles Lakers organization and I'll keep it at that. I hope my future is still with the Lakers."
Kupchak did not answer questions directly on that issue, but the wisdom of making changes to the team's core has been on his mind since at least February, when he admitted that he was thinking of making a trade before the NBA's trade deadline to jump-start the team's sluggish performance.
Kupchak stood pat then. He might not now.
"Things have to settle a bit," he said grimly. "So I'd like to defer this conversation. Talk to the players at exit interviews first."
Making changes will be easier said than done. The Lakers have $88.5 million committed towards payroll next season even if Shannon Brown and Matt Barnes don't exercise their player options worth a combined $4.3 million; and $60 million committed for the next three years.
"We all know they always come back and get themselves back in the race," Jackson said. "The Lakers are going to survive."
Ramona Shelburne is a columnist and reporter for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin, ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon and The Associated Press was used in this report.