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Kupchak: PJ can come back no matter this year's result

4/19/2010

With the ink long dry on Kobe Bryant's extension, the biggest question regarding how this season's playoff could impact next year's team now focuses on Phil Jackson.

The Big Rumors say Dr. Buss may not be interested in paying PJ the $12 mil he earned this season and instead could ask for a pay cut, one PJ may or may not accept. Or, should the team flame out early, perhaps he won't be asked back at all. Yesterday on 710 ESPN radio, GM Mitch Kupchak said that wasn't the case:

"...I'm not sure that has anything to do with it. A coach doesn't forget how to coach in one season. ... His body of work speaks for itself... If we don't perform well this year, my guess it's likely due to [having] a team that's been injured or [one that] maybe runs into a team that's really, really hot, so I'm not really concerned that will be an issue.""My understanding is that if Phil wanted to come back and coach next year ... then he would be embraced to come back and coach for another season..."

You wouldn't expect Kupchak to go on the radio and put Jackson "on notice," so to speak, but his words basically line up with my take on the situation. Barring something catastrophic (and no, not winning a title doesn't qualify), assuming Jackson wants to return, and assuming his health checks out I think he does, they'll figure out a number and make it happen. It's fairly nonsensical to spend as much as the Lakers have and will, then try to squeeze nickels on the coach.

Plus- and this is important- Kobe wants Phil back.

One theory I've heard floated around the media room says the Lakers would try to squeeze Jackson because Byron Scott is high on the list of appealing replacements for Jackson, and likely won't be available beyond this summer. If Phil only has a year or two left, why not make the switch now for the long-term next act? Kobe likes Scott, too.

In some ways it works, at least on paper. Scott tends to burn out his players, but would be taking over a veteran group and only need their collective ear for three or four seasons before the whole thing might get blown up anyway. He obviously has some cache in L.A. But would you exchange possibly two more years of Jackson for, say, four or five of Byron Scott? I wouldn't, even with the savings.

Of course, it's not my money, and it should be said I'm not nearly as big a fan of Scott's coaching or his candidacy here as others. But bottom line, when he becomes a free agent at the end of the season, Phil Jackson will easily be the best coach available. A central tenet of the organization is always to be the best, to have the best.

The team has some window left, and even if Jackson can't/won't stay until it's totally closed, why not keep him here as long as possible? Unless you believe he's lost the team- I don't- or his skill- again, I don't- forcing Jackson out now is bad business.

Not exactly something for which Jerry Buss is known.