Trying to get to the bottom of pay-cut story on Phil Jackson

Michael Wilbon is a media giant, blabbermouth co-host of PTI, while also working alongside ESPN basketball expert Magic Johnson at times, an occasional column for the Washington Post and a guest this week on Tony Kornheiser’s radio show in Washington, D.C.

Wilbon has so much to say, there’s no problem believing him when he says. “I have no idea what I said on the radio.”

But someone taped him talking authoritatively about the $7-million pay cut he says Phil Jackson will have to accept to remain with the Lakers, and Wednesday, KTLA’s Steve Hartman played it on TV here for everyone.

“I was told yesterday,” Wilbon says, “that Phil Jackson’s been told that not only will he not be making $12 million next year, it’s going to be a $5-million cap on his salary.”

If that’s true, there’s probably no chance of Jackson returning to coach the Lakers.

So is it true?

“Phil, we have Michael Wilbon here,” I said during Jackson’s press briefing prior to Game 2. “He said on the radio in the last day or so you’ve been told you will have to take a pay cut and the pay cut will be down to $5 million. Have you been told that?”

Jackson replied with good humor, “You know, I don’t know where these rumors come from.”

That’s when I pointed to the media giant who was standing, albeit shrinking right beside me.

“Well, they come from here, from Michael Wilbon,” I said, while pointing to the troublemaker.

Jackson said, “Ask Michael where they came from, don’t ask me.”

I presumed he meant Wilbon and not Jordan, and later Wilbon would say he talked to “multiple sources, in this case two,” and “they weren’t media.”

I had a hunch he doesn’t talk to Plaschke, or watch “Around the Horn” for that matter.

As the press briefing continued, I told Phil, “I just wanted to check the accuracy [of Wilbon’s report]. He has a very good reputation and I’m sure he’s on the mark, but I just wanted to verify with you.”

“That’s a good one,” replied Phil, who must’ve thought I was joking when I said Wilbon has a very good reputation. He probably gets Wilbon and Kornheiser confused.

Wilbon, meanwhile, said nothing, too busy giggling — you can take the guy off the PTI set but you can’t take the PTI out of him.

“I’m sorry,” I told Phil, laughter in the room making it difficult to hear him and I had no idea Wilbon was so funny. “I didn’t hear your answer.”

“That’s good,” repeated Phil, while still not verifying Wilbon’s report. “I won’t answer the question. I don’t know if there was a question there.”

Here it is, as ridiculous as it might sound asking the guy who has won more championships than any other NBA coach, “Have you been told you will take a salary cut if you return?”

“Yes, it’s been indicated,” Phil said.

“But not down to $5 million?” I wondered.

“I’m not going to say down,” he said in showing the good sense not to appear as if he was bellyaching being paid something like $5 million. “I’m not going to say down, it’s weird to say stuff like that … it’s still a ridiculous salary whatever is.”

That’s refreshing to hear, although as ridiculous as that salary might be, I suspect he’ll still go for the highest ridiculous salary he can get.

Jackson said later through a spokesman he actually has not been told by anyone in the Lakers organization he will have to take a pay cut.

He just assumes he will, the spokesman said, given all the media speculation.

When did Jackson start citing the media as gospel?

If true, he might have six or fewer home games remaining in his Lakers career. One more title.

As for our giggling media giant, the troublemaker wanted to know why the Nets’ new billionaire owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, wouldn’t ask Jackson what it would take to go there.

He coaches the Nets or Bulls, Wilbon said in continuing to stir things up, “and why wouldn’t LeBron James go play for Phil?”

Right now it looks like anyone could coach the Lakers in this ho-hum series with the Suns, but what value do you place on someone about to take the Lakers to the Finals for the seventh time in 10 years?

Whatever, talk of a pay cut after retirement talk the other day suggests this could be Jackson’s last Lakers hurrah.

I wonder if he leaves his high chair for Brian Shaw.

You know Wilbon’s probably hoping that’s the case, so much more for him to talk about, so many more radio/TV shows to do.

Just be happy we don’t have troublemakers like that in L.A.

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