Reporting from East Rutherford, N.J. – Even when Lakers Coach Phil Jackson attempted on Saturday night to bring clarity about his future, he was often vacillating instead.
Jackson waffled when asked whether he would return to coach the Lakers if they repeated as NBA champions.
He’ll decide in June or July, but Jackson’s comments regarding exactly what that decision will be based on left many reporters confounded before the Lakers’ 103-84 victory over the New Jersey Nets.
Jackson, 64, is in the final year of a contract that will pay him $12 million this season.
He even joked that he wouldn’t take a pay cut to return as coach of the Lakers.
When Jackson first was asked whether his chances of returning improved if the Lakers won the NBA championship again, he was emphatic with his answer.
“Oh, sure,” Jackson said. “It really does.”
Then he paused before adding: “But it’s not a definite that I would continue if we repeat.”
Jackson was asked to explain what he meant, and whether he would return next season based on how the Lakers played.
“If things didn’t go well and we didn’t win, that would obviously be something that would be . . . maybe it would be time for someone else to look at this job and carry this team forward,” Jackson said. “That’s possibly not going to happen that way. But that’s kind of an issue. But, just winning it outright doesn’t mean it’s natural to come back and coach this team. . . . A lot of it has to do with the direction the league is going, the direction the ownership wants to go.
“You have people cutting costs all around the league. That’s a big part of it. I think coaches’ salaries are going to take a cut too along the way. So then they may not even want to hire me. They want to save some money. They can’t write that off.”
Jackson was asked whether he would work for less. “Why, would you?” he said, smiling.
Pau Gasol, 29, has agreed in principle to a three-year contract extension that could be worth up to $64.7 million and would keep him locked up through the 2013-14 season.
Kobe Bryant, 31, is making progress on a three-year extension that could be worth up to $91 million and could also keep him locked up through 2013-14.
Andrew Bynum, 22, is in the first year of a four-year, $57.2-million deal that runs until 2012-13.
That would seem to be enough for Jackson to want to return.
“They have a great chance to be a very good team for a while,” Jackson said. “Drew [Bynum] is locked in and that’s a great start from their standpoint of putting a great roster together that has some commonality. They’ve played together on a regular basis. Now there’s a couple of other things they have to get done.”
Part of Lamar Odom’s double-double of 14 points and 12 rebounds Saturday night against the Nets involved taking away points and a rebound from Bynum.
Well, sort of.
Odom and Bynum were both at the rim for a tip-in. After the public address announcer said the basket was by Bynum, Odom looked at the scorer’s table and raised his hand.
The announcer correctly made the change to Odom.
“I needed them,” Odom joked. “He [Bynum] knows that. I’ve got to keep my numbers up.”