Jackson thinking ahead, but in wrong direction

Updated: October 8, 2003, 4:12 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

Michael Jordan playing for the Lakers? The thought has occurred to Phil Jackson. But it hasn't occurred to MJ, who said his answer would be no.

Jackson, the Lakers coach and Jordan's former coach in Chicago, intimated in a published report that he has reluctantly considered a scenario in which Jordan would play for him if Kobe Bryant is unable to.

"It has crossed my mind," Jackson told the Chicago Tribune for Tuesday's editions. "But I don't think I'd ask Michael that question until it became absolutely necessary or it became a reality. It's just speculation."

Jordan, 40, has not dropped hints that he'll play again.

In fact, his response -- issued through a spokeswoman -- was short, to the point and unequivocal: "100 percent no."

Jordan retired after last season as a Washington Wizard, missing the playoffs for a second straight season. He butted heads with teammates and ownership and, ultimately, was fired when he tried to return to his front-office position with the franchise.

Bryant has a scheduled court appearance in Eagle, Colo., on Thursday, when it will be determined in a preliminary hearing whether he will stand trial for felony sexual assault. A trial date has not been set, and it is possible that a trial could come during the NBA's regular season or during the playoffs.

The thinking is Jackson wants Bryant to be able to straighten out his personal life and get back to being the 25-year-old star player he's known to be on the court. Bryant has acknowledged that he considered not playing this season, a revelation that may have gotten Jackson thinking about short-term roster alternatives.

Bryant has denied raping his 19-year-old accuser, contending he was guilty only of adultery for having consensual sex with the woman.

Meanwhile, Bryant is continuing to build strength after having offseason shoulder and knee surgery. At 205, he's 15 pounds lighter than he was a year ago. Jackson said Monday that Bryant probably will not play until the Lakers' Oct. 14 preseason game against Phoenix in San Diego.

"I can pretty much do everything except explode. My leg is weak at some spots," Bryant said in Honolulu, where the Lakers hold training camp.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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