EL SEGUNDO, Calif. - The new name at the top of a coaching search a year from now for a team near a championship, or just any team in New York City: Phil Jackson.
Jackson on Wednesday re-affirmed he thinks he has coached his final game, a statement that came as part of his final meeting with the media as the Lakers completed two days of exit interviews following the humbling second-round elimination, only with the qualifier that he may not feel the same way in the future. A lot of teams undoubtedly immediately took note.
Barring the biggest shock of all, Jackson will spend 2011-12 in retirement, some while living in Montana, some while traveling, some while visiting Los Angeles where his appearance at a Lakers game will cause great buzz. He has said already, in an interview with NBA.com, that he would not stay on the job even if a lockout results in an abbreviated schedule that creates less strain on his body. And as recently as Sunday, after the Mavericks completed the sweep with a resounding victory in Dallas, Jackson again signaled his career was likely over, even surprisingly saying he was happy the season was over.
He has not sounded like a man interested in another coaching gig: “I’ve said that I’m relieved to be finished and happy with the job I’ve done.”
It was pointed out that some team will obviously call in the future to gauge his interest in a spot that is open or is about to open. How can he be so sure, the question was asked, that this week begins a final retirement?
“Today I’m sure,” Jackson replied. “What’s it going to be like in six months? Who knows.”
That’s the part that will keep speculation alive, and he never hates keeping people off-balance. Jackson is the first to admit he is a closer and not an ideal candidate for a team that is looking to develop young talent and becoming a some-day contender. (In a frank self-assessment of his skills as a strategist, the coach of an NBA-record 11 championships said he “probably failed” at some X-and-O work.) But if a team is willing to hire a short-timer as part of a title push, Jackson obviously comes up, and, in the important development from Wednesday, perhaps listens.
This goes for the New York teams as well, even if they’re not mapping out a parade route. Jackson is a former Knick who loves those roots, and price is generally no object for owner James Dolan. And now that the Nets are a year away from moving from New Jersey to Brooklyn and in a brass-knuckle fight with the Knicks over territory and marketing possibilities, what a coup it would be to land Jackson, if the job comes open. Jackson had said soon after the Nets ownership change, with a sly grin, that Mikhail Prokhorov seemed like an interesting man and perhaps they could share some vodka one day.
Speculation will jump to the forefront with every opening among playoff teams in the next year or so. There is nothing wrong with Jackson keeping his options open, of course. It’s just that a lot of uneasy coaches would prefer that he would come out and declare this retirement final.