Only one thing will end rumors of Phil Jackson returning to coaching:
But Jackson is still kicking, answering questions at age 68 about when and where he might coach next.
Of course, the Lakers – with whom he was a candidate before they ultimately hired Mike D’Antoni – came up first. Jackson’s 11 championship rings make him intriguing in any role, even beyond coaching.
Jackson, in a Q&A with Sam Amick of USA Today:
Q: Is there any scenario where you get back in that mix? I’ve heard some chatter that you could become even more involved there, and there’s this idea that time heals all wounds and even though the way the coaching situation went down was botched that you could play a role, whether with (general manager) Mitch (Kupchak) in the front office or something else. Is that plausible at all?
A: I don’t think so. I have a good relationship with the vice president in business affairs (Jeanie Buss) — at least it has been pretty good (laughs). She’s dedicated to their family running the business and trying to feel what that’s like. Their father’s memorial service is not a year old, but he has been gone for a year now and they’re still just kind of figuring out, ‘How are we going to do this?’ So I think they want to have an opportunity to do it. And Mitch, obviously, has a relationship with (Lakers executive vice president of player personnel and Jeanie’s brother) Jimmy that has been going on since, I think, 2004 or so, when he started becoming really involved. So for the last 10 years, he and Mitch have been pretty much working together. (Late Lakers owner) Dr. (Jerry) Buss came in on things. We had a few issues. Kobe (Bryant) had an issue one year. We had an issue getting Pau (Gasol). Some of the major moves, Dr. Buss was still there. But the other stuff Jimmy and Mitch have been working on. They’ve got a relationship, so I don’t see that happening.
Q: You just took the wind out of the Lakers’ fans sails there…
A: I know, I’m trying not to gin up any hope in that direction. I don’t go to games. I keep encouraging them as fans to follow their team, and they’re having a hard time doing that. They’re not used to being in the position they’re in, so it’s tough.
Jackson has already coached the Lakers in two separate stints and tried to return for a third. I don’t think he’s lying when he says he thinks he’s done working for the franchise, but it’s hard to rule it out completely.
Maybe Jackson would succeed in a front-office role with Kupchak, and maybe that’s the type of less-physically demanding job Jackson would consider.
But his biggest appeal comes in coaching, where he’s a proven success. Any time a team nears its championship window, Jackson gets mentioned. It always seems at least a little appealing to hire a coach who’s won a championship in a majority of his seasons at the helm.
And the Houston Rockets certainly look like their championship window is opening. Led by Dwight Howard and James Harden with Chandler Parsons as an underrated third wheel, the Rockets are legitimate title contenders right now and young enough to remain that way for years.
Q: So considering the narrative on (Rockets coach) Kevin McHale has been that people wonder how long he wants to coach, do you have intrigue with that situation? I have to admit wondering that maybe you look at that like a do-over from what didn’t happen in LA with Dwight.
A: (Laughs). No, I. I’m sorry. I mean. Um, no. I don’t (pauses). I like that. That’s funny. I’ve got a (phone) call at 10 (a.m.) — how am I doing at time?
Amick: You’re running late. Thanks for the time, Phil.
Remember, Howard wanted the Lakers to hire Jackson, and Jackson had a gameplan in mind to take advantage of Howard’s skills. There was at least intrigue between the two a couple years ago.
The Rockets are well-coached, which is why they could win a championship this year. But when Phil Jackson is available, it’s always tempting – and he always stokes the rumors just enough to make you believe his return is possible.