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.
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.