Does Phil Jackson Still Have The Fire?

It is worth remembering as the Lakers and coaching target Phil Jackson move toward the latest reunion that the 2011 split didn’t happen with Jackson flinching from tensions with the basketball-operations portion of the Buss family or with his body begging for relief from the obstacle course of another season.

He was burnt. Not from life in the Lakers circus, because Jackson not only handled that well but, in fact, instigated much of the madness. He was just done.

It is now 18 months later, to the day the Lakers met with Jackson to discuss replacing the fired Mike Brown, and the real question before both sides is obvious: Does Jackson have it in him?

He certainly could be rejuvenated after spending all 2011-12, such as it was, and the early portion of this season in R&R mode. Time away has been a solution for people before. And Jackson, who should know best, wouldn’t have the conversation Saturday, if he didn’t think he was up to getting back on the carousel. He clearly does.

The downside of the sabbatical – Jackson is not coming out of retirement because he never said he was absolutely done coaching – is that the calendar didn’t stop. He is 67 years old now. Just as he knows best whether the first is restored, it’s safe to say he realizes what the body says in November after a year and a half of deciding his own schedule is not any kind of read on what it will feel like to pry himself out of a chair in April or May.

That the Lakers had to come crawling back to Jackson to save them, again, is surely the greatest antidote of all. (It was easy to imagine the call to arrange a meeting, with Phil next to the phone, letting it go right to voice mail, smirking, just to yank their chain in that hilariously smug way of his.) But the Jackson of that historic Sunday afternoon in Dallas in May 2011, when the Mavericks finished the 4-0 thumping in the Western Conference semifinals to start the sabbatical, should not be forgotten.

“It feels really good to be ending the season, to be honest with you,” he said.

It was startling. Zero sadness from the greatest coaching winner in NBA history at being trounced.

More from my account of what could have been Jackson’s final day on the bench:

Melancholy that his legendary career appears over, yes. Disappointed that Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum were ejected in the fourth quarter – the Odom decision was debatable, but the Bynum cheap shot will probably result in a suspension to start 2011-12 – sure. But it would have been impossible to imagine Jackson being so glad, so flat out relieved, that he could escape to the solitude of his beloved Montana.

At that moment, some 20 minutes after the Mavericks had finished the 122-86 knockout blow, it became apparent just how anxious he was to get off the mad ride. No regrets at coming back to try for the threepeat after seriously considering retirement last summer, Jackson said. But, enough.

Jackson added that “I came back this last year with some trepidation,” meaning there was some certainty before 2010-11 whether he had it in him. So it’s fair to wonder about where he is in November 2012. About whether he has it in him one more time.


  1. jamaal says:

    When the lakers were trying to buy a ring with this so called super team they forgot to invest in a bench. They wont make it far against other deeper teams in the west. The lakers are only selling wolf tickets

  2. patrick10 says:

    good luck with that!

  3. noyb says:

    This roster would be Phil’s biggest challenge after the Malone-Peyton debacle. That’s why he’ll take it…

  4. chuchovsky says:

    I think PJax would return only if kobe accepts that his no longer the alpha dog. The best teams PJax had as a laker were those that had kobe playing second banana. And Phil has said in the past that kobe is the most uncoachable fella he have ever had. So I supposse he’d would love to have the ball handled primarily by nash rather than having kobe ball-hoging the rock, and also to have Dwight as the main offensive weapon for his triangle offense (ala shaq), and having kobe play a rol similar to what ray allen did in boston (that would be sweet).

  5. MJ from OKC says:

    The coaches salary is not included in the salary cap.

    Moving along…

  6. jmndodge says:

    Loved Jackson as the Bulls coach – there is no question he was a good coach. Always thought he knew as much about men as he did about basketball, takes some special players to buy into his system. I have no question that he would do well with this group of Laker players — their big five are aging, but all among the best to ever play their positions. Jackson will have to want to burn the mid-night oil, pace the press and fans, and risk it all on a team without the money to bring in much new talent. I wouldn’t have the fire to do it — I can’t imagine he really needs the money, and he already went out at the top. I’ll watch this play out with interest.



    If the Lakers opt for Jackson, though, the price will be considerable.
    Jackson’s original deal with the Lakers, in 1999, was for five years and $30 million. He then got a three-year, $30 million deal upon returning to the team in 2005, after a one-year sabbatical following his mutually-agreed-upon departure from the team. A two-year extension worth $24 million followed, and Jackson still was making $10 million in his last season coaching. For the Lakers to bring him back a third time would likely mean a salary in excess of the $12 million he got in 2009.


    • newie says:

      considering that as the other person just stated they signed a $2 billion dollar TV deal with TWC i think they are flush with funds along with the fact that lakers are also one of the most profitable sporting teams world wide. And considering there is no salary cap on coach staff they cant of hit their “cap” (so you can stop using the 2k games as a refrence). ooo and jerry bus is a billionaire he can afford it.

  8. The Nightfox says:

    In my opinion, Mike Dunleavy or Jerry Sloan would make a lot of sense with this team.

  9. W/E says:

    Phil can come back to LA if he wants but he aint winning a ring this year with this crippled old lakers team…

  10. Chester says:

    phils triangle offence does not fit with howard or nash, it would be a mistake to get jackson, plus he has alot to lose

  11. Lakers-R-Us says:

    @ Manila Boy Philippines! Obviously you’re not following everything that’s going on! The Lakers just signed a deal for billions of dollars with Time Warner cable to air the Laker games! That frees up a lot of money for them! Maybe you better use your brain and not your smart mouth dude!


    him whatever he wants hehehehe what about the salary cap of the team? pls use ur brain not ur mouth alright, u never saw him yeah ryt coz it is not stupd.. they cannot pay him anymore unless phil will lower his salary offer to the laker. whatever the lakers team and the lakers fans want we dont care bring it to the team what u want maybe 3 more allstar player i dont think it can win this season as u can see what happend now.. hehehehe.. lakers dont know how to play team work right know they dont whos team is it now, they say kobe’s team but they all want the leadership.. so bring more allstar as u want and also pj bring it as long as u the laker can pay all of that hehehehe.. then if they loose too much excuses heheheh thats the way it is. MIAMI IS STILL THE BEST TEAM COZ THEY ALL KNOE WHAT ARE THEIR ROLE AS A PLAYERS, SO WHAT OUT THE KING AND THE MIAMI HEAT IS COMING. THIS HOW WE ROLE AT MIAMI, LA LA LAND WHAT? NEVERLAND MAYBE..

    • What says:

      If you’re going to bag on the lakers on a lakers blog, please go elsewhere

      • daniel kcmo says:

        fail to realize that the heat had serious problem the first season together. its a 82 game season. the lakers will always be contenders, the bench is weak, but they dnt play enough to gain confidence and to develope a role so a new coach to iron out the wrinkles is all the lakers need. the laker brought meeks and jamison in, but they rarely see the floor .especaily meeks a pure shooter. they just have to get it together. but best believe they will be in the finals

    • John says:

      stop saying hehehehe you sound like a child. i guess i know why i am not proud of being a filipino

  13. Lakers-R-Us says:

    It would be a miracle if Phil Jackson came back! I never saw it coming! I thought he was retired from coaching for good! I hope the Buss family; and Mitch give him whatever he wants!

  14. karan says:

    Bring back Phil!!!

  15. cruzero says:

    with the bulls, he had the greatest NBA player, MJ, also had Pippen, Rodman and some role players on his roster. in his time with LAL, he had a Kobe Bryant and a Shaq in their primes, had a fisher and a Horry. Now what? retiring then coming back? because LAL has a excellent roster now? getting credits “IF” the lakers win? o common on. im not saying that he is not that good of a coach, but a team to be really a team should have chemistry. if we keep changing staffs, coaches or players, nothing will happen, LAL should stick within their system, and not make great names handle their problems. let’s put it this way, let him coach the pistons or the bobcats, let us see where he goes.

    • NBABasketball says:

      lmao cruzero – LET ANY COACH coach the Pistons or Bobcats and let’s see where they go.

      LOl, there is no saving those teams. Put MJ on either team they still get knocked out of the first round.

      They are just that bad.

    • chrismkeane says:

      I think it would be fair to say let him coach a team like the Clippers of Knicks and see where he goes and I don’t think he would be winnng anything

      • Game Time says:

        Clippers and Nicks have very talented teams. He might actually surprise us if he coached one of those teams.

  16. DD says:

    Good Blog article!

    • JP says:

      Phil is a leader more than he is a coach.PJ brings hope not just for the fans but for his players. He leads men, and that is perhaps the most influential factor in leading a team. Debating whether he’s good for Nash, running the triangle, is not as relevant as instilling the belief that they can win it all. The indoctrination of collective egos believing in eachother and in a common goal is Phil’s gift and perhaps the secret ingredient that makes him the Zen Master. IMHO, whether he’s in it for fame over “love for the game” is a non-issue, irrelevant. I would argue he loves and respect the game just as much but in a different way that Pop, or Sloan. Phil has Magic; a magic ingredient that makes men want to strive for a common goal and for a short minute put their huge egos on the bookshelf. He is the Greatest coach. A coach leads.

  17. steppx says:

    Its a fascinating narrative being played out, and in one sense its part of why we all follow sports. There is a drama played out in these situations , on a larger than life stage. Thats why such a stage exists, I suspect. Ive always thought Jackson a very self promoting and opportunistic figure. Im not sure he loves the game the way a Jerry Sloan or Greg Popovich love it. Or sees it as a personal battle with fate the way Red Auerbach did. Or as a laboratory the way Larry Brown and George Karl see it. For Jackson its more about the fame that comes with victory and celebrity franchises. This isnt to say he’s not a good coach, because I think he is. But do i think he’s a great coach? No.

    If he returns, and it appears he will, what surprises me is that this is going to be his biggest challange and the most flawed roster he has ever worked with. The problems with the team he left after that defeat against Dallas was more coherent than this group. He will no doubt make personel moves. He almost has to. But Im not sure what is possible in that regard. The timing is very weird. He mostly has to live with what he has, an aging team of big ego talent, and a d-league bench. Im surprised………..but the lure of being seen as a savior is probably very enticing. But I am sure he must be having a few second thoughts. Of course a tidy 12 million doesnt hurt either.

  18. Adam says:

    lakers back on top? your kidding aren’t ya. they have a long way to go.

  19. LakersWillWin says:

    One thought of mine, could be wrong of course just speculation… Was that he knew the lockout was inevitable and did not want to coach in a shortened extra stressed season. Took time off to collect his “Zen” and knew the Lakers would handle the situation (as they did) and are certainly back on top. You can never take the fight out of the dog.

    • Game Time says:

      I think that would be giving TOO much credit to him.

      • Game Time says:

        Yes, but saying Phil was able to predict everything that happened to the Lakers up till now is ludicrous.

    • Watcher says:

      I wouldn’t be surprised if he calculated his decisions in that manner. Again, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is just the metaphysics of things working out for someone like Phil.