Lakers Coach Phil Jackson has given a variety of answers as to whether he will return next season, though the latest indication is that he’ll be back. And indications are that Kobe Bryant will be too.
“I always go through the process of having to reassess the season in the summertime,” he said. “I have a contract, and I mean to fulfill it. If I abrogated it and said no, I would be shocked at myself.”
Jackson, 63, has a one-year option for about $12 million next season. He always takes time after the season to review his health and determine if he will return, though he sounded optimistic as the Lakers prepare for their playoff opener Sunday against Utah.
Jackson made the comments to i a small gathering of corporate sponsors Thursday at the team’s training facility. The event was closed to media and the public, though it was streamed online at the Lakers’ website. Questions were submitted by fans ahead of time.
There were other illuminating points, including General Manager Mitch Kupchak’s hopeful tone when asked whether Bryant would return to the team next season.
Bryant can opt out of his contract in July and become a free agent, though he can re-sign with the Lakers for five years and about $135 million, more than any other team could offer.
“I’ve always indicated that Kobe started his career here, and I feel he should end his career here, and I think he will,” Kupchak said.
“All he’s ever wanted in terms of having conversations with me and what he needed going forward was to build a team around him that can compete for a championship. I feel . . . he has that team. I can’t imagine why he would want to play or live in any other place than Los Angeles and play for this team going forward.”
Kupchak was less specific when asked about forwards Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza, who will be free agents in July. Odom is on the books for $14.1 million this season. Ariza makes $3.1 million, a relative bargain.
“The economy in this country and the world we live in has changed, and that’s going to play a factor to all free agents this summer,” Kupchak said. “Without getting too far ahead of ourselves and trying to predict how we’ll end up [in the playoffs], how players will play and what the economy will be like this summer, I think the simple answer to the question is: With the ownership that we have here, we’ve always seemed to do whatever it takes to bring the players back that we want to bring back to put this team in a position to win going forward.”
Calling on Bench Mob
Last season, they were known as the Bench Mob, a group the Lakers depended on to change the complexion of games, perhaps the best reserves in the NBA.
“The Bench Mob hasn’t been much of a mob lately,” assistant coach Frank Hamblen said.
The Lakers, who had a team dinner Thursday night, want their Bench Mob back.
There have been changes. Odom was a reserve, became a starter and now is coming off the bench again. Ariza went from reserve to starter, and Luke Walton has gone from reserve to starter to reserve again.
Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar have suffered through injuries.
Farmar was experiencing pain in his right foot recently and went to get X-rays, a CT scan and an MRI exam Friday from Dr. Phil Kwong, a Lakers spokesman said. The Lakers said Farmar has tendinitis and is listed as day to day. Farmar and Vujacic were key substitutes last season but have struggled this season.
Farmar’s points (6.4 this season, 9.1 last season) and shooting (39.1% this season, 46.1% last season) are down.
Vujacic’s points (5.8 this season, 9.1 last season) and shooting (38.1% this season, 45.4% last season) are down.
“There was a lot of pressure from you guys [the media] that we were not performing as well as we were supposed to, and we were not,” Vujacic said. “Now we are thinking we are playing some good basketball.”
Odom has charity event
Odom held his annual charity event Friday night, in part to benefit Jasmina Amena, who has leukemia and needs a bone marrow donor. She is from Odom’s hometown of New York.