Lakers have a coach waiting in the wings


As Phil Jackson might say, thank heavens that’s over.

Except it’s never over.

This is going to be a challenging summer, even for the two-time defending champions, whose coach is leaning toward retirement.

This isn’t about money or appreciation, but Phil Jackson’s concerns about health and the quality of the rest of his life.

Jackson found retirement hard — read b-o-r-i-n-g — both times he tried it, in 1999 and 2004.

At 64, it’s just a matter of whether he leaves now or in a year, so why not go out on top, rather than hack his way through another season that could be even tougher than this one, on the chance he could stay on top?

Also, when you’ve been dangled all season — when you were coming off a championship... and were en route to repeating — how much fun would it to be tell the Lakers what they can do with their pay cut ... however politely, because you’d like to stay involved in some mentor capacity?

If you’re wondering who gets the job....

That’s Byron Scott.

Boy, if they were only all this easy.

Beloved by Kobe Bryant. Blood brothers with Magic Johnson.

Bluntest-spoken coach in the biz. Players jump for him.

Took New Jersey to the Finals twice. Took New Orleans, which had just gone 18-64, to No. 2 in the Western Conference in three seasons.

Boy, if naming a coach was all the Lakers had to worry about.

Instead, there’s the financial crisis, at least in their heads, after making only $15 million to $20 million with a lockout looming ... the season after next ... assuming there is one.

In lieu of giving up high-stakes gambling, Jerry Buss is expected to cut employees’ salaries across the board, might not let his basketball people use their $5.9-million mid-level exception and could dump some salaries, including Lamar Odom’s.

Not that it’s badly timed, not to mention unfair to the little people working there for love of the Lakers, making bupkis and looking at losing 20% of that, but the team has an issue or two.

The Lakers are old, need shooters and as far as athleticism goes, looked like statuary in the first round against the Thunder.

Now Odom, one of their most valuable players, is going on the block, supposedly because he didn’t do much in the Finals, but actually because of his $8.5-million salary?

A bust as a No. 2 option, Odom has been a rare No. 3 or 4, giving the Lakers the flexibility and the size to keep a lineup that towers over opponents on the court all game.

The best option — for the team — is keeping Odom and signing Mike Miller and Steve Blake or Luke Ridnour, available triangle-style players who can shoot, with the team’s exceptions.

Moving Odom for one player, like Miller, would be a wash, a Looney Tunes option for a team that just netted $15 million to $20 million.

Letting Odom go without getting anyone would be the hubristic They-Deserve-What-They’re-Going-To-Get option.

If you thought last season was a test, wait till next season.

Who would you like in a Finals between the Lakers and the Bulls with LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah?

The LeBron Stakes

The Summer of 2010 everyone has prepared for since the Summer of 2008, starts Thursday when LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, et al., hit the market.

Here’s how the contenders stack up:

The Favorite — Chicago.

Trading Kirk Hinrich’s money just got the Bulls within a few dollars of two maximum salary slots, to go with Rose, Noah, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson.

Nice Try — Miami.

The Heat moved enough salary to create three max slots for Dwyane Wade, James and Bosh, but LeBron wants his own team as Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan wanted theirs.

As if conceding the point, Miami President Pat Riley said he won’t trade Michael Beasley, insisting two big slots weren’t that big a deal.

“I want to build a team, and it takes five guys to build a team,” Riley said. “And whatever kind of room we created, it’s to build a team.”

Presumably, starting with Stoudemire.

Home Is Where the Heart Was — Cleveland.

If a supporting cast of Antawn Jamison, Mo Williams, J.J. Hickson, Anderson Varejao and Delonte West looked modest before, they look like a band of street urchins now.

This Horse Is So Dark, You Can’t See It — New York.

The Knicks have two maximum slots ... if they renounce David Lee, which would leave, essentially, no one.

Their best shot was drugging LeBron’s wine at the lavish party they were throwing for him before James called off the trip.

Chris Paul in 2011, anyone?

I Was Going to Be There Anyway — New Jersey.

James was probably visiting the Nets while in Gotham only out of respect for his pal, minority owner Jay-Z.

Proving LeBron’s Not a Student of NBA History — Clippers.

Of course, their supporting cast is up there with that of the Bulls.

Nevertheless, they had better have an answer ready if James asks, “Didn’t I read something about you stiffing your last coach for the money you owed him?”

Ba-deeya, ba-deeya, ba-deeya, that’s all, folks!

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