Earlier in the season, we spoke with Lakers executive vice president of business operations Jeanie Buss, and touched on a wide variety of issues including reports of family tension perhaps strong enough it could lead to the departure of Phil Jackson after this season.
Today, in an interview with Steve Springer for ESPNLosAngeles.com, owner Jerry Buss the lack of an extension for Jackson isn't a question of internal strife:
Q: There was a claim in a recent Internet story that, because of the failure of the Lakers to offer Phil Jackson a contract extension to this point, there is a tension among members of the Buss family. Is that true?
A: We really want to get through the year and then take a deep breath and see where we are. If I were to go to Phil right now and say, "Will you coach next year?" he'd say, "Well, let's wait until the end of the year and see how I feel." So, I don't think it causes any tension. I know I have to wait until season's end before a discussion begins.
We'll have a lot more on this, including a conversation with Springer for our new podcast posting this afternoon, but a few quick thoughts:
Based on how discussions of PJ's return had been handled in the last few offseasons, I always assumed nothing would happen until the Lakers were done this year, too. Maybe the assumption was off base from the start, but that's been my perspective.
Jackson's health seems far stronger now than in years past, but the NBA season is a grind, and a guy has to be both physically and mentally ready for it. To me, Jackson appears to be both.
If the Lakers win another title, I think it's difficult to picture a scenario in which Jackson doesn't return, short of him asking for a big raise over the $12 million he's making now.
If the Lakers reach the Finals, I still think he comes back, but should they flame out early, I would think the odds of Dr. Buss deciding the Lakers didn't need to spend so much on a head coach increase. To be clear, I think Jackson will be back no matter the result, but this scenario seems more plausible.
History and context have a big role in the speculation, which was Jeanie's big criticism of reports of feuding over Jackson's future. "Phil, I don't think was ready to leave, I wasn't ready for him to go. There was some tension that is now being repeated in the media," she told us earlier this month. "It's convenient to bring all that up again because Phil is in his last year of his contract and it's almost like déjà vu, but it's nowhere near the same situation. I think that while there was some tension back in 2005, there isn't that tension that exists today." That said, until Jackson is signed there's always a chance he won't be back. He makes a ton of money, and there are definitely egos at work, here, just as there would be in any situation involving high profile and powerful people. The same principle applies to Kobe Bryant. Nobody really thinks he's leaving, but until the extension is signed, the possibility is always there.