GM considers team minus Phil Jackson

Updated: February 22, 2011, 2:57 AM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

If Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson follows through on his plans to retire after this season, general manager Mitch Kupchak says he won't be caught off guard when it comes time to choose a successor.

"If Phil does leave, which he's indicated he would, then at that point in time, we'll look at what our options are and we'll act on things that we've talked and thought about in the months and years leading up to this," Kupchak said in a telephone interview with ESPNLosAngeles.com.

"Part of what ownership and management does, versus coaches and players, is look to the future always," Kupchak said. "We always have lists in our head. We're always thinking about 'what if'? So to indicate that we haven't internally thought about the future ... that wouldn't be correct.

"Players and coaches, they only live for the day. Their only goal is to win the next game. As a manager and as an owner, part of your job is to look to the future and of course we've done that."

Jackson has repeatedly said that he intends for this season to be his last season. But because he's taken two "sabbatical years" -- as he likes to refer to them -- in the past, and dabbled with the retirement issue so many times, a natural skepticism clouds the issue.

At least for now, Kupchak says he has no choice but to take Jackson at his word this time.

"I had a much better feeling last year," Kupchak said, when asked if he believed Jackson would leave after this season. "I do think it's more likely he'll retire. He sounds more definitive. But that's months off. There's really nothing to dissect there right now."

Kupchak would not elaborate on which candidates might be on those internal lists.

Assistant coach Brian Shaw is widely assumed to be the in-house candidate for the position.

Jackson has been reluctant to speak about his future plans, or what the Lakers might do to replace him if and when he retires.

"I think there's obviously a 'Who's going to take over next year?' kind of thing that goes on with the team," Jackson said Feb. 11, before what could've been his final game at Madison Square Garden. "But I don't think we're at that stage yet."

Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.