Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak actually managed to go nearly two minutes without addressing Phil Jackson's announcement about "leaning towards retirement." He spoke of a championship season's "storybook ending," how an opening round against Oklahoma City "woke up" the Lakers during the playoffs, and the rosy future with Kobe Bryant's and Pau Gasol's contracts extended. For almost 120 seconds, it was a purple and gold world free of anxiety and chock full of optimism...
Then his opening remarks ended and the floor was opened to questions. From there, it was basically all PJ, all the time.
"My understanding was that he was contemplating continuing or contemplating retirement," reflected Kupchak on the surprise news. "And that he would do what he always does, which is take a couple of weeks, or in this case, a week maybe because the season went longer than it normally does, and let us know his decision. And I think he's still going to do that. I'm aware he used that phrase ("leaning towards retirement") down here about 15 or 20 minutes ago. But until he makes his mind up, there's really not much more for an organization to do. I've expressed to him personally that I hope he returns. That was months ago. And I said it to him right after Game 7. And that's how I feel.
"He has a process that he has to go through. He knows that he's wanted here with this team. I think he's been reassured of that throughout the exit meetings with the players. He's got a couple of medical appointments in the next day or two and hopefully we get word sometime next week that he wants to continue to coach."
OTHER NOTEWORTHY POINTS:
Kupchak said there's no deadline for Jackson to make a final decision, nor would the organization deny him time requested. Having said that, he also doesn't expect this process to stretch out further than mid-to-late-July, and seemed pretty certain it would be resolved before that. "We don't have a time line and [Jackson] hasn't indicated that he needed a time line," explained Kupchak. "He has indicated that he hopes he makes up his mind next week."
Interestingly, Kupchak didn't just hold out hope Jackson will alter his stance. He didn't seem convinced Phil will actually leave in the first place. While acknowledging no true insight into what Phil's future, he'd nonetheless be "very surprised" if The Zen Master wasn't back, citing factors like roster quality, a love of Los Angeles, and the hilariously-phrased "strong relationship" with Jeanie Buss (along with her immediate family tree). Plus, as Kupchak noted, there's the DNA. "This is in your blood, this whole competitive, player/coaching kind of thing," insisted the Laker G.M.
Still, as Mitch noted, PJ has always been a "little different," and may approach the situation in a way nine out of 10 people wouldn't.
Kupchak didn't feel there was anything the organization could offer Phil to make him change his mind, should he decide to call it a career. He also expressed confidence money wasn't a sticking point preventing PJ's return. "I think making a deal would be an easy part of the decision," reassured Kupchak. "I don't think with this organization and his ties to this organization and our respect for him, I can't see a circumstance where there's not a deal made that's fair."
I wondered if a coaching change might prompt the front office to retain as many free agents as possible, just for the sake of continuity and removing more more obstacle next season. Mitch said one has nothing to do with the other, and pointed to the backcourt as the most pressing issue in need addressing this summer.
Finally, Kupchak shared a funny exchange between them about the physical difficulties Jackson encounters at his age during the course of a grueling season:
"[Jackson] indicated it was kind of hard for him to put on his shoes in the morning. I said, 'Well if you retire or don't retire, you'll still have to put your shows on in the morning. And then he said, 'I can wear flip flops.' I said, "Well, you can wear flip flops as the coach for the Lakers.' So we've bended, as you can see... What else we can do, I'm not sure."
The videos of Kupchak are below the jump.