Phil Jackson will return
After the twists and turns of Thursday were finally put to rest, a clear, straight-ahead picture emerged Friday: The Lakers aren’t done yet.
Their coach, Phil Jackson, agreed to return next season, endorsing the addition of Ron Artest simply by coming back for his 19th season as an NBA coach. In fact, Jackson was the one who pushed to sign Artest in the first place, according to a source familiar with Jackson’s thinking who was not authorized to speak publicly.
Jackson has always been fascinated by Artest’s defensive ability. Now he faces the challenge of coaching Artest in a strict triangle offense that leaves little room for freelancing beyond Kobe Bryant’s forays.
It will be entertaining to gauge the Jackson-Artest dynamic, though a phone conversation between them was described by both sides as being productive and positive the day Artest agreed to terms on a three-year contract worth about $18 million.
Beyond Jackson, the Lakers are pushing to keep Lamar Odom despite being hip-deep in luxury taxes for next season’s payroll.
Unlike the Trevor Ariza negotiations, which turned sour almost from the start, the Lakers and Odom are patiently waiting each other out, a low-key approach befitting the always-mellow mood of the free-agent power forward.
Odom wants at least $10 million a year, but the Lakers don’t want to pay that much, even though they covet the versatile player who helped them emerge from the Western Conference finals by averaging 19.5 points and 11 rebounds in the last two games against Denver, breaking a 2-2 tie.
“If we can get L.O. on board, we’ll be pretty good again,” said a Lakers source who couldn’t speak publicly about negotiations because of the NBA’s weeklong ban on teams discussing free agents.
The Lakers have plenty of leverage after agreeing to terms on a three-year deal with Artest. To review their frontcourt: They have 21-year-old Andrew Bynum in the middle, All-Star Pau Gasol at power forward and Artest, a top-notch defender at small forward who occasionally plays power forward.
In other words, Odom’s options are limited in a free-agent market that constricts a little more every day.
Of the teams that still have plenty of money to spend, Toronto has a solid power forward in Chris Bosh, Portland has LaMarcus Aldridge and Oklahoma City has a pair of up-and-coming forwards in Kevin Durant and Jeff Green.
Odom enjoys Los Angeles, and he and Artest are childhood friends dating to their days together on youth teams in New York. The Lakers hope it’s enough to persuade Odom to agree to less money, even if it’s only for one year.
The Lakers also continue to talk to free-agent guard Shannon Brown, but there seems to be no hurry to make a deal there either.
Jackson, meanwhile, decided to return to the Lakers after receiving positive medical news and, over the last few days, pondering his future at his Montana home.
“After consulting with Lakers team internist Dr. John Moe, I feel confident that I can gainfully pursue an NBA season with another long playoff postseason. All things point to go!” Jackson said in a statement released by the team.
Jackson, who turns 64 in September, successfully completed a battery of medical tests the last couple of weeks and will make $12 million next season.
He recently won his 10th championship as a coach, passing Boston Celtics legend Red Auerbach, but neither Jackson nor the Lakers are currently looking beyond next season.
“The present agreement between Phil and the Lakers runs though the 2009-10 season,” said Jackson’s agent, Todd Musburger. “There is a comfortable and positive relationship between Phil, Dr. [Jerry] Buss, his sons that are in management, and certainly [General Manager] Mitch Kupchak, that if both sides feel an extension is something they want, then obviously it could happen. But for the moment, there’s another terrific season to look forward to and nothing formal planned on seeking answers beyond the coming year.”
Jackson missed a game in Portland toward the end of the regular season because of painful swelling in his lower right leg. He has had both hips replaced and, in 2003, underwent an angioplasty procedure to open a clogged artery in his heart.
Jackson still felt “the afterglow of the [championship] victory,” according to Musburger, who expressed relief that Jackson’s tests all supported a return to the Lakers.
“Obviously, everybody close to Phil is equally thrilled with that news,” he said. “He’s excited first that his health is what it needs to be. It’s going to be an exciting year. This move that they just made [for Artest] is filled with intrigue.”--
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