Jackson didn't like direction team was going

Updated: July 12, 2004, 9:32 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

After putting the finishing touches on a journal of the Lakers' 2003-04 season, Phil Jackson has mailed it off to his publisher. Expected to be published in the fall, Jackson's tale promises to include his unique take on Kobe, Shaq and the organization as a whole.

But what about the Lakers' former coach himself? Is his NBA story at its end?

Phil Jackson
Phil Jackson isn't committing to a return to coaching, but he isn't ruling it out, either.

"I don't anticipate coaching," Jackson told the Los Angeles Times during a telephone interview Sunday. "I wouldn't rule it out. But I don't anticipate I will. I may coach a group of AAU kids somewhere. But I'm not going to solicit an NBA job."

Especially not after the way the Lakers' season played out this year.

"I'm happy I left. It looks like the right time to leave," Jackson said. "They wanted to make some moves to accommodate signing Kobe. We knew they probably wouldn't work if I was coaching the team."

Even before Lakers owner Jerry Buss made the split with his coach official on June 18, Jackson had decided he didn't believe in the direction the team was moving. When negotiations over his contract extension were postponed in February, Jackson knew, he said, that he was coaching his last season in Los Angeles.

"I felt I was indifferent, [even] diametrically opposed to the direction they were going," Jackson told the Times -- so much so that he ultimately declined Buss' offer to become a Lakers vice president.

Still, Jackson didn't think the Lakers needed the sudden changes they are now clearly ready to make. Why break apart a team that was still so strong?

"We made the Finals and we weren't healthy," he said. "This still was a pretty good team. It would have only gotten better. Gary [Payton] and Karl [Malone] would have only gotten better in the system."

The direction the Zen Master couldn't follow? Kobe's Way.

Jackson told the newspaper that he'd gone so far as to intentionally undermine his contract negotiations with Buss -- by asking for at least $10 million per season -- as a way to stall for time, to observe Bryant's state of mind coming back from the summer of 2003, when the superstar guard was charged with felony sexual assault. What Jackson saw prompted him to understand that his fifth year in Los Angeles would be his last.

"It's hard for me to describe my relationship with Kobe," Jackson said. "I had an exit meeting that went really well with him. I wished him well and hoped he'd find happiness with a team. And happiness playing ball."

While Jackson insists that after the Lakers' five-game loss to the Pistons in the NBA Finals, when he and Bryant appeared to let bygones be bygones, he seemed to suggest that Kobe himself wasn't at peace.

"I learned that winning doesn't always make people happy," Jackson told the Times. "There's a lot of back-biting and selfishness and ego gratification. It's not enough for everybody, even when you win, sometimes. I don't know if it's the price of the NBA itself or the fact it takes such a heavy toll on our lives that makes it so difficult for all of us.

"A championship wasn't enough to make Kobe happy. I noticed it wasn't enough. It was OK. It was a notch in his belt. But it wasn't his end result."

Still, Jackson would like to see Bryant remain with the Lakers, though he doesn't think the team has much of a chance of returning to the heights it reached while he was coaching -- and while Shaquille O'Neal, who is on the verge of being traded to the Miami Heat, was leading the show.

"You can't replace Shaquille, there's no doubt about that," Jackson said. "He's a unique player. Los Angeles is going to have to say goodbye to any chance of being a multiple champion in the near future. ... It's a very daunting task without that force in the middle."

In their time on the team, Jackson seemed to appreciate O'Neal and his gregarious approach to the game and to life.

The two met up after O'Neal skipped out on his exit meeting. "I think we were able to part with some sense of goodwill and peace," Jackson said. "I told him I hoped he finished his career strong. He thanked me for what we were able to do together."

Such togetherness has now has been broken, and so irreparably that what's been happening recently in Lakerland makes Jackson cringe.

"I was disappointed at the way [my situation] was executed," he told the Times. "It makes the organization look fumbling.

"There was a way to do things with grace and elan."

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