Posted Jun 28 2010 6:20AM
Somewhere in Montana, in a rustic yet spacious house with a sweeping front porch and a lazy river flowing nearby, Phil Jackson is no doubt pondering his next big move.
Hop on his motorcycle for a spin?
Watch the white-tail and coyotes frolic from the front window?
Coach the Lakers next year?
Choices, choices. The first few options are purely for pleasure, the perks of owning a summer home in Big Sky country. The last one will require a bit more reflection and contemplation. Jackson might be fresh off an 11th championship, but there is little else fresh in his world. His body, with creaky joints in his knees and hips, is telling him to slow down. The grind of the 82-game schedule plus playoffs is a young man's journey. The intensity that comes with steering a perennial championship contender can add stress to anyone's life. And plus, the money, while astonishing for a coach -- Jackson pulled $15 million last season, easily tops in the game -- will undoubtedly diminish a bit as the Lakers look to trim here in these hard economic times, although Jackson is already rich.
Why not just watch the white tail?
"I'm not sure," Jackson said, before leaving L.A. for his retreat, when asked which way he was leaning.
Before the July 1 green light flashes for free agency, the coaching version should be settled. If this is the Summer of LeBron, then Jackson will own a day or two as he decides whether to coach Kobe again or watch Kobe on TV. There is the issue of money and whether the Lakers, who are tightening the belt, will match Jackson's salary. But that's all about ego, not money. He's not working for the cash. The real issue is whether Jackson wants to put his body through another nine-month gauntlet. Or if this is the right time to gaze at the Montana sky.
When is the right time to leave? Usually, players and coaches retire only when they have something else to replace the game. That will be central to Jackson's thinking. He won't do TV and turn into a Mike Fratello or Jeff Van Gundy. And there isn't a "dream" job out there. He did miss the game when he first left the Lakers, but his body was intact then. Not so now.
The good news for the Lakers is they won't have to search hard for a replacement. Brian Shaw, a Laker assistant for five seasons and the last two riding shotgun next to Jackson, and Byron Scott are waiting, and both have the blessing of Kobe.
Both are playing the waiting game, anxious to see what Jackson decides. Shaw will interview next week for the Cavaliers' opening, and as enticing as it might be to possibly coach LeBron James, Shaw's preference would be to stay within the Laker family. But is coaching the Lakers, a two-time defending champ, the best way to break into the ranks? What worked for Pat Riley three decades ago doesn't necessarily work now, although if anyone could swing it, it would be someone like Shaw who already knows the turf.
From an experience standpoint, it's an easier call. Scott led the Nets to back-to-back appearances in the NBA Finals and also coached Chris Paul in New Orleans. Problem is, both jobs ended somewhat unceremoniously. Of course, playing a key role during the Showtime era doesn't hurt Scott from a resume standpoint. Like Shaw, he's player-friendly and laid-back, an easy sell to the locker room and especially Kobe.
Scott is on the Cavs' radar as well and the following scenario will be in play: If Jackson returns, so does Shaw and Scott should get the Cleveland job. If Jackson calls it quits, Scott should get the Laker job and Shaw most likely heads to the Cavs.
What's best for the Lakers? Jackson, obviously. He meets with owner Jerry Buss next week, and Buss should do whatever it takes to keep Jackson from returning to the ranch. That's because there is no risk when it comes to Jackson.
He's the best coach for Kobe and knows how to deal with a superstar's quirks and whims and ego. Even Kobe is lobbying hard for Jackson's return.
He can roll with Ron Artest. He doesn't necessarily connect with Ron-Ron -- who does? -- but as a counter-cultural creature himself, Jackson is on the same wavelength. Whatever that is. Artest needs to be reigned in every now and then, and Jackson uses a very secure rope.
Finally, Jackson has been there and done that. As long as Kobe is healthy and in uniform, the Lakers' stated goal is winning a championship, and why tinker with success?
As long as Buss doesn't insult Jackson in negotiations, the decision will rest with Jackson, who'll then figure out what he'd rather watch from the comfort of his chair: the occasional Grizzly wandering by, or Kobe trying to match Michael Jordan for rings.
Take a guess which creature would be hungrier.
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