Jackson 'leaning towards retiring'
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson used it as a running joke this season when asked if he was leaning one way or another regarding his coaching future. "I'm leaning against the wall," Jackson said in a tunnel in Oklahoma City, and later, "I'm leaning against the podium," before a playoff game at Staples Center.
He dropped the joke and got serious about his decision Wednesday.
"I'm leaning towards retiring but I have not made up my mind," Jackson said.
The 64-year-old coach told Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss that he planned on completing a series of medical tests and evaluations by Thursday. He then plans to drive out to his summer home in Flathead Lake, Mont., on Friday, spend a week checking in on the results of those tests and make his final decision a week from Friday.
"I'll take a week after the medical tests are done," Jackson said. "Some of it's about health, some of it's about that's the way I feel right now. I've had vacillating feelings about it. It's hard not to feel like coming back when you're speaking to these players and have an opportunity to coach a team that's this good. But, it's what I feel like right now and what I feel like in the process that's gone through. It's just something I'm going to sit with and feel out and after I'm through talking about all the rest of it with the doctors, then I'll make the final decision."
Jackson said this was not the first time he has felt like it was time to retire after a season. Following the Lakers' loss to the Pistons in 2004, he walked away from the game for what he thought was for good at the time, even authoring a book entitled "The Last Season," but he returned to the Lakers after a year off.
After rumors leaked to the press as far back as December about the Lakers' front office wanting Jackson to accept a pay cut from his $12 million salary should he return, the coach made it clear that his decision would come down solely to his health.
"It's certainly not about money," Jackson said. "It's not an issue about money."
Jackson listened to plea after plea by his players in the last two days, telling their coach how much they wanted him to return.
"Kobe sat in the meeting and said, 'I was just thinking, we've been to seven championships in 10 years, it's been just unbelievable,'" Jackson said.
Bryant said the team would be "drastically different" without Jackson, who holds a litany of coaching records including the most championships in NBA history for a coach with 11, as well as the best winning percentage during the regular season (.705) and the playoffs (.697).
"We all want him back," Bryant said. "He knows that. I've stressed that to him over and over. The personality of our team is made up of his composure, his thought process of his philosophy. It changes things drastically but I don't even want to think about that right now. It's killing my buzz."
Leaving in the midst of a three-peat possibility, something he has already accomplished three times with Chicago in 1991-93 and '96-98 and again with Los Angeles in 2000-02, is one reason that Jackson's foot is still keeping the coaching door open.
"My intention was that if we won the second time, to go for a three-peat would be natural,'' Jackson said. "It would be tough not to go for another championship in that three-peat realm, which is ridiculous. That's one of those things that's sitting out there that's still a fly in the ointment.''
Bryant explained what he thought made Jackson such a great coach.
"He has a great knack for bringing guys together," he said. "His message is always the same. He's not a rah-rah coach; rah-rah coaches lose the attention of the team quickly because they're always trying to pump guys up. He doesn't do that. He focuses on execution, on triangle offense and us playing as a unit. That's it. He's not going to get in your face or do any of that stuff." Jackson's health, however, remains his main concern, as he deals with an arthritic right knee that he wears a brace on daily, two replaced hips, kidney stones and a heart ailment that caused him to have a stent inserted several years ago.
"I think it's an inner feeling where you assess the price of what it takes to do and how much time you have left to live and live a life that you want to lead and also, for myself, try and get in better health than I am now so I can lead an even better life," Jackson said. "Those are all things that I have to weigh. This career has been wonderful, but [it's also about] making the next one or the next phase in my life as meaningful as this has been."
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Jackson said that when he had thoughts about leaving last season, but returned in part because he was still under contract to coach the Lakers.
"I had a contract and I always like to fulfill a contract if I'm possibly able to do it because that's an agreement that you've made with somebody and it's meaningful," Jackson said. "I've pretty much felt my way through what I've done through the heart standpoint, or through the gut standpoint, my whole life."
Jackson's name was attached to the Chicago and New Jersey head-coaching vacancies before they were filled several weeks ago. Jackson said, "I'm not going to rule that out, but it doesn't look like that's an option ... You hate to say 'not' and you're out a year or whatever and then all of the sudden everything feels like it would be fun to do it again. I can't say I would never coach again."
Jackson also said he did not anticipate coaching at the collegiate level, although a booster from the University of Oregon contacted him in hopes of Jackson taking over that program.
He doesn't know what he would do to fill his time next season if he did retire from coaching, however friends have suggested he write a book or go on a "grand lecture tour."
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said he would be "very surprised" if Jackson was not coaching somewhere next season. "He's got a process that he needs to go through," Kupchak said. "He knows he's wanted here with this team. I think he's been assured of that in his meetings with players. He's got a couple of medical appointments here in the next day or two, and hopefully we get word sometime next week that he wants to continue to coach."
Dave McMenamin, Arash Markazi and Ramona Shelburne are reporters for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.