Jackson says he'll return to Lakers

Updated: July 3, 2009, 7:15 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

The Los Angeles Lakers' commitment to sign the mercurial Ron Artest made retaining Phil Jackson even more imperative than it already was.

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And Jackson's status is no longer an unknown, thanks to a statement on the Lakers' Web site Friday afternoon.

Jackson issued a statement confirming that he will be back to complete the final season of his contract, following an ESPN.com report earlier Friday that an announcement was forthcoming early next week.

"After consulting with Lakers team internist Dr. John Moe, I feel confident that I can gainfully pursue an NBA season with another long playoff postseason," Jackson said in the statement. "All things point to go!"

Jackson left Los Angeles on Wednesday to make the drive back to his offseason home in Montana after completing a positive series of medical checkups following the Game 5 victory in Orlando on June 14 that clinched the 15th NBA title in franchise history.

In a recent radio interview with 710 ESPN Los Angeles, Jackson said his 2009-10 status would be made official by "early July" and insisted that health concerns would be the only factor that could keep him from completing the final season of his contract in 2009-10, worth an estimated $12 million.

Since originally joining the Lakers for the 1999-2000 season, Jackson, 63, has endured an angioplasty and gout in addition to two hip surgeries and occasional back and leg problems.

In the radio interview, Jackson acknowledged the Lakers have "toyed around" with the idea of letting assistant coach Kurt Rambis coach the team in more road games to ease the wear and tear on Jackson, as seen in April when Rambis stepped in for Jackson in a road loss at Portland on the second night of a back-to-back set.

But Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak subsequently announced that Jackson would "come back and coach both home and away games" if he indeed returns.

"During my discussion with him," Kupchak said, "it was pretty clear that that type of scenario doesn't work. And that's his opinion as well."

One theory already in circulation holds that Lakers owner Jerry Buss wanted to sign Artest in part to entice Jackson with a challenge to come back after winning his record-setting 10th championship ring as a coach, breaking his longstanding tie with Boston Celtics patriarch Red Auerbach.

The ability to keep Dennis Rodman plugged in with the Chicago Bulls, something only Jackson and Michael Jordan managed after Rodman's early days with the Detroit Pistons, helped him win three of those rings.

Asked during a "SportsCenter" appearance Thursday if he believes he'll be playing for Jackson when he reports to Lakers training camp in October, Artest said flatly, "He's my coach."

Artest also told the Los Angeles Times: "I had a great talk [Thursday] with Phil. I'm a huge fan of his and I can't wait to show him what I can do."

Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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