Phil Jackson has left his mark on the NBA with 13 championships — two as a player and 11 as a coach. Now, as the world waits for him to decide about his coaching plans, Jackson may be leaving his mark on the future of the league.
As is customary during NBA offseasons, the “coaching carousel” is rotating in full swing. This year, though, many of the most sought-after characters find themselves inextricably linked to the Lakers. Lakers assistant and former player Brian Shaw has interviewed for the Cleveland Cavaliers’ vacancy, as has Lakers legend and former New Jersey Nets and New Orleans Hornets coach Byron Scott. While the only current coaching vacancies are with the Cavaliers and the Los Angeles Clippers, Jackson’s announcement that he is “leaning toward retirement” begs the question: If Phil is gone, who gets the Lakers’ job?
Both Shaw and Scott have declared that they are not willing to wait on Jackson as they make their respective decisions about their futures, but the seat at the head of the Lakers’ bench would be the dream job for both men.
Speaking at the Western Governors’ Association meeting in Whitefish, Mont., Jackson further underscored that the decision about his future hinges on his health. He compared his situation to that of ailing Denver Nuggets coach George Karl, who battled throat cancer for much of the past year.
“My concern, to be quite blunt, is I don’t want to happen to me what happened to Denver this year with George Karl,” Jackson explained to The Associated Press.
Karl missed a significant portion of both Denver’s regular season and playoff games during the 2009-10 campaign. Many have even asserted that the coach’s absence was a pivotal factor in Denver’s early playoff exit.
Jackson himself missed a couple of games this past season as he battled plantar fasciitis, and with ailing knees, replaced hips and a history of heart problems, Jackson knows that his return could jeopardize Los Angeles’ season.
“I don’t want that to happen to the Lakers,” said Jackson, referring to Karl’s struggles to stay on the Nuggets’ bench.
Of course, the vaunted 2010 LeBron James (and other superstars) sweepstakes is playing a role in coaching searches. The Cavaliers, in an apparent effort to keep James, fired former coach Mike Brown and made a $30 million offer to Tom Izzo, but the Michigan State coach ultimately rejected the offer.
Free agency officially begins this Thursday, July 1, and the luring of a big name to the Cavs’ bench prior to that day would likely aid the team’s efforts to re-sign LeBron James. While Scott maintains that Cleveland has a “50-50” chance of keeping King James, recent reports have suggested that Chicago and Miami are more likely destinations. Sportsbook.com currently has both cities listed as favorites over Cleveland as well.
The Clippers also could look to Shaw or Scott to fill their coaching vacancy as they try to lure LeBron into their grasp.
But the big question still remains: What if Phil decides to leave the Lakers to coach LeBron himself?
The Zen Master has not firmly ruled out that possibility.
For now, Jackson has returned to the Flathead Valley of Montana to “recharge” for the offseason and wait for the advice of his doctors. His impending decision, as has been the case for two decades, will massively shape the face of the NBA, regardless of whether he is even part of the league next season.