Questioning Phil's future
Lakers coach Phil Jackson is once again answering questions on his coaching plans
His focus is narrow these days. Out of necessity as much as self-preservation. As clear as the Los Angeles Lakers' present condition is -- up 2-0 on the Utah Jazz in this best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal after Tuesday night's 111-103 win at Staples Center -- his future is uncertain, as is his team's.
Phil Jackson may not want to talk or expound much on what next season might hold.
He can't. Not now and at least not publicly. It would be inappropriate. And despite his iconoclastic bent toward the NBA office and its sometimes draconian ways, this is not the time for Jackson to make a big deal about either himself or his future.
But the uncertainty hanging over next season is on everyone's mind.
"Yeah, we all talked about that at the beginning of the playoffs," Lakers guard Jordan Farmar said. "We had a team dinner where we all looked around and said, 'I may not be here, I may not be here, I may not be here. We all enjoy each other and want to leave a lasting impression, if it is a last impression. Because you never know how the situation will work itself out."
While Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss has stated that he hopes Jackson will coach the Lakers again next season, he has also let it be known he isn't keen on paying him $12 million a season anymore, particularly if the Lakers aren't winning championships.
Understandable from a business perspective, but it has essentially created a strange performance incentive for the coach who has won more NBA championships than any other coach: win it all again, go home or take a pay cut.
Last week, Jackson's girlfriend and Lakers vice president Jeanie Buss effectively undercut that part about going home as an alternative to winning it all again by saying she believed Jackson would coach again, "somewhere," even if it isn't with the Lakers.
That's an option Jackson never wants to weigh, though.
"I can't see that as an image, or even as a prospect," Jackson said before Tuesday's Game 2 when asked whether he could envision himself coaching elsewhere next season.
"I'd say it's 90 percent that if I'm coaching it'll be here."
All season Jackson has said he wants to come back to coach the Lakers again. What he hasn't said, but doesn't have to, is that he doesn't want to have to do so for 30 percent less than he has been paid the past few years.
Will it come to that?
As Jackson himself has indicated several times this season, everything depends on how the Lakers finish this season. Whether they can get "10 more," as he wrote on the white dry-erase board in the team's locker room after Tuesday's win.
That's a rather complicated dynamic for a coach of Jackson's stature. Reminiscent, actually, of the way Joe Torre's tenure as Yankees manager ended.
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If it's bothering Jackson, he wasn't letting on Tuesday.
"I think that's the way our game is," Jackson said. "That's the way the players end up having to make decisions in this situation that are very critical to not only their life but also to their sports longevity."
But it's interesting to note that Jackson asked his children to fly in for last week's Game 5 against the Thunder. At the time, the Lakers and Thunder were tied 2-2, Kobe Bryant was noticeably ailing, and the Thunder were gaining a dangerous amount of confidence.
If the Lakers had lost Games 5 and 6, it could've been Jackson's last game at Staples Center as coach of the Lakers.
"That was really important to him to have his kids here, because this has been a part of their family for so long," Jeanie Buss said at the time.
How much longer will he be a part of the Lakers' family?
Jackson can't think about that right now. His focus is narrow these days.
He and his team have plenty to play for. Maybe more than they care to admit.
Ramona Shelburne is a columnist and reporter for ESPNLosAngeles.com.