If you want to know whether or not Phil Jackson is going to come back and coach the Lakers next year, asking Phil Jackson may be the worst way to find out.
Would he return to the Lakers if they make the Finals?
“Good chance of it.”
What if they don’t make the Finals?
“I’d have to think long and hard about it because I think we only have five guys coming back off this roster. There is kind of a real swing effect on this team with players. We have one guard coming back that’s signed. That’s (Sasha) Vujacic. (Jordan) Farmar, (Derek) Fisher, (Kobe) Bryant and Shannon Brown are all free agents and up for move or resigning.”
First, getting rid of all the guards on the Lakers roster not named Kobe would a good thing going forward. The Lakers perimeter play — spotty defense, inability to hit the three, poor post entry passes, not setting up the offense well — is one of the team’s big weaknesses. Wholesale changes would not mean disaster.
But back to our “listening to Phil 101” class:
From where I sit, those quotes have little to do with whether or not Phil Jackson returns next year and everything to do with motivating his team. The Lakers players — particularly the key ones like Kobe and Pau Gasol — like playing for Jackson. The threat of him leaving is designed to light a fire under them, to help bring some focus, to get the squad listening to him again.
It’s also the sexy thing to talk about regarding his return, but frankly his health and the Buss family’s willingness not to cut his pay are bigger factors. Those are the ones he usually brings up first, until it gets close to the playoffs. Then suddenly the emphasis switches. Because he’s Phil Jackson.