Lakers and Phil Jackson have the pieces in place for a run at a third straight NBA title — except one
Forget about training camp. Andrew Bynum might not even be back for the Lakers’ season opener.
The Lakers’ center is still recovering from off-season knee surgery and isn’t expected to return for the Oct. 26 game against Houston, when the Lakers open the season at Staples Center and receive their rings and begin their quest for a third consecutive NBA championship.
“I don’t see how Andrew’s going to be ready,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said Friday. “That’s an unfortunate thing, but the type of surgery that the doctor did on his knee takes a little extra time. Obviously, we hadn’t prepared and Andrew hadn’t prepared that it was going to take an extra month and a half or so. I know he’s getting battered a little bit [by the media].”
The Lakers begin training camp Saturday, but Jackson said he wasn’t irritated by Bynum’s decision to undergo surgery July 28, well after the Lakers won Game 7 of the NBA Finals on June 17. There was a 10-day delay from the scheduled date for Bynum’s surgery, said Jackson, who claimed he wasn’t upset that Bynum went to see soccer’s World Cup in South Africa with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
“We encouraged him to go there,” Jackson said. “After an eight-month season, it’s kind of fun for these guys to get out.”
Jackson was more bullish on the return of Bryant, who underwent knee surgery in July but was expected to be ready for the season opener.
“He’s been working really hard the last month,” Jackson said. “Just recently, Kobe said he’s starting to move and [feel] the right way. I anticipate he’s going to play some [ preseason] minutes in Europe.”
The Lakers play exhibition games Oct. 4 in London and Oct. 7 in Barcelona, Spain.
There was much to discuss with Jackson, 65, who hadn’t been interviewed in depth since agreeing to return for one more season.
He reiterated that this would indeed be his “last stand,” but, paradoxically, couldn’t definitively say he would be 100% done after this season, especially if the Lakers won a third straight title.
“I can’t tell,” Jackson said, pointing out that his approach this season would be like the last several, with concerns about the future reserved for a midsummer week or two of reflection.
Continuing the paradox, Jackson spoke freely of who might replace him next season, saying he hoped it would be one of his own assistant coaches, be it Brian Shaw, Frank Hamblen, Jim Cleamons or even relative newcomer Chuck Person.
“I hope it’s one of the guys on my staff that they choose,” Jackson said of the Lakers’ front-office decision, whenever it may come, to pick a new coach.
Jackson acknowledged taking an unspecified pay cut from the $12 million he made last season, but dryly said, “I think I’ll be all right to make it through the year.”
This season could be historic for Jackson and Bryant, with three-peats linking them both. Jackson is going for his fourth three-peat as a coach — he twice coached the Chicago Bulls to three consecutive titles, and won three consecutive titles after joining the Lakers for the 1999-2000 season. Meanwhile, Bryant is chasing his second three-peat of championship runs, which would match Michael Jordan’s record with the Bulls.
Jackson also had more thoughts on the Lakers and the other potential powers in the league this season, specifically Miami and Boston.
The Heat, with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, is the odds-on favorite to unseat the Lakers, if Las Vegas bookmakers are to be believed: “These players obviously wanted to collude together and do this. It’s going to make for a very exciting season.”
Jackson also praised the moves made by Boston, including the addition of Shaquille O’Neal, saying it would add some brawn to a Celtics front line with Kendrick Perkins rehabilitating from knee surgery.
Gasol allegedly had a quiet summer, taking time off from the basketball court, but Jackson wondered aloud about the travel he logged, including his soccer trip to South Africa, an NBA-sanctioned trip to India and a return to his native land, Spain.
“Is he an ambassador for the world?” Jackson said. “He should start the Palestine-Israeli peace talks. Pau was everywhere this summer.”
Lamar Odom did some traveling as well, helping lead Team USA to victory almost two weeks ago at the world championships in Turkey.
“He’s ‘deconditioning,’” Jackson said, indicating that Odom would not be asked to do much in the early stages of training camp.
There also won’t be much early activity for Luke Walton, who has been slowed by a bad back for the better part of a year.
“He’s been working really hard,” Jackson said. “Hopefully, he’ll be able to get up there and withstand it and we’ll be able to move forward with that second unit. I can’t say I’m confident. I’m hopeful.”
Jackson also weighed in on the NBA’s renewed effort to crack down on player misconduct on the court, with referees instructed to give out technical fouls more freely.
Bryant has approached one-game suspensions over the last several seasons, coming close to the league limit of 16 technical fouls numerous times.
“I think he needs to understand that he’s got a limitation,” Jackson said.
The Lakers signed four players to take part in training camp: guards Trey Johnson (Jackson State) and Anthony Roberson ( University of Florida, Memphis Grizzlies) and centers Andrew Naymick (Michigan State) and Russell Hicks (Pepperdine, Florida International).
The Lakers have 14 players with guaranteed contracts, one under the NBA maximum, but none of the above four players is guaranteed to make the regular-season roster.
Former Lakers forward Adam Morrison accepted an invitation to play for the Washington Wizards during the exhibition season with a non-guaranteed contract.