By Scott Howard-Cooper
LOS ANGELES – Phil Jackson, moving toward a quick resolution of his future, told NBA.com he hopes to make a decision on whether he will return to the Lakers sideline as soon as before the draft next Thursday and by the end of the week at the latest.
A day before the Lakers and Celtics play Game 7 of the Finals, Jackson sent conflicting signals on whether he expects to return, admitting he has little appetite for another season of the grind but later conceding it was his end-of-season energy level talking and not a read on whether he will be in Los Angeles for an 11th season. The only certainty, Jackson said, is that he will see his doctor within days of the championship series ending and make his career decision soon after.
“Hopefully I get the medical things done early next week and before the draft is up I have a decision,” he said after practice.
Jackson has planned all along to get input from doctors, to make sure pre-existing medical issues won’t stop him from coaching. He said late in the regular season, though, that there is no hint of a problem, noting, “The wear and tear of a season, I think, affects everybody, the travel and whatever else you have to do for an extended time. But, all that being said, I’m as mobile as I’ve ever been in the last three years. That helps. I’m dealing with less arthritic elements that are painful things going on as you age. But there are still considerations as to the duration that I will coach, simply because I have to stay attuned to that.”
The subject of his health came up again Wednesday at a press conference after practice at Staples Center.
“You know, I still get up and say this is probably the last time I’m ever going to do this,” Jackson said. “I can’t imagine myself going through this again. It’s not only a lot of fun, but it’s a lot of stress and pain and anxiety, et cetera. But it’s something you get acclimated to.”
Asked later whether it was a strong indication he prefers retirement over coaching, he told NBA.com:
“No. I just can’t go off on a snap judgment like that. That’s why I say I want to take some time following the season.”
Jackson said in late-March that he expects to come back and re-affirmed that direction when he said during the Western Conference finals that “the probabilities are great” he will return. But he also passed on a chance to say he’ll either be in L.A. or in retirement, obviously loving the banter and the chance to leave open the possibility he could be working elsewhere in 2010-11.
If word comes next week that Jackson does plan to stay with the Lakers and continue the stability that has delivered three consecutive conference titles and at least one NBA championship, it will not necessarily mean a contract is in place. That could either be a quick process if the sides have been putting the frame work of a new deal in place or go later in the summer as the sides negotiate without any pressing deadline.
But an important step could come before the draft.
“Hopefully,” Jackson said.