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Saturday, November 10, 2012
Kobe Bryant favors Phil Jackson

By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant still hasn't gotten over the way his final season under then-Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson ended in a second-round sweep from the playoffs.

Bryant wants a chance to make up for it this season. He fully endorsed Jackson to fill the Lakers' coaching vacancy caused by Mike Brown's dismissal, following L.A.'s dominant 101-77 win over the Golden State Warriors on Friday.

"Phil, obviously, you guys know how I feel about Phil," Bryant said. "The one thing that's kind of always bothered me is that his last year, I wasn't able to give him my normal self because I was playing on one leg. That's always kind of eaten away at me that the last year of his career, I wasn't able to give him everything I had."

Bryant averaged just 17 points in the final two games of that four-game sweep at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 playoffs. Bryant's knee was in such bad shape the following offseason that he traveled to Germany to undergo Regenokine surgery -- a noninvasive blood manipulation procedure -- to try to repair it.

"He's too great of a coach to go out that way," Bryant said. "That's kind of my personal sentiment."

Sources told ESPNLosAngeles.com that Jackson is open to returning to coaching after spending last season away from the game and that Jackson, along with former Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni, is at the top of the Lakers' list to replace interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff.

Bryant said he believed the one obstacle in Jackson's way could be the 67-year-old's health. Jackson underwent knee replacement surgery in March; however, a source close to the Hall of Famer told ESPNLosAngeles.com that Jackson is "getting better and better."

"Knowing him the way I do, I think it's really just a matter of health, if he feels physically up to doing it," Bryant said. "He's a perfectionist. We all know he's a perfectionist. If he feels like he can come in here and give what he demands from himself, then I think he would be interested."

Bryant went over the top in singing the praises of Jackson, who has more championships (11) than any other coach in NBA history.

"He teaches us the little nuances, the details, the intricacies of the game that just a lot of people just don't know," Bryant said. "It's no fault of their own. When it comes to basketball, he's a genius level. So it's tough for anybody to step in those shoes afterwards from players that were raised underneath that tutelage."

Bryant said he has reached out to Jackson since the coach retired to get reading recommendations after ignoring the book assignments Jackson handed out in the 11 seasons Bryant played for him.

When pressed whether it was feasible for Jackson to come in six games into the season after missing training camp and successfully implement his triangle offense, Bryant shot back, "Are you doubting the 'Zen Master'?"

A "We want Phil!" chant broke out several times throughout the game at Staples Center on Friday night. Bryant called it "expected." Said Bickerstaff: "I can understand why. I mean, the guy's got the rings, right?"

Pau Gasol, one of three players on the roster who played for Jackson before, along with Bryant and Metta World Peace, also was in favor of Jackson returning for a third stint with the team.

"That's an option, I guess," Gasol said. "I love Phil. He's obviously a great, an amazing, a great coach. But again, I don't know where he stands on this and if he would be interested or not and if the ownership thinks that it's the right thing. I believe it would be the top one on the list."

Dwight Howard, who took a lot of criticism for his involvement in Stan Van Gundy losing his job in Orlando last season, tried to avoid the coaching search questions that came his way.

"I'm going to keep that (to myself)," Howard said. "I learned my lesson last year. I'm not talking about that."

Howard did offer one quip about Jackson's potential return. "If he does come back, we'll be using the same high chair, so that's pretty cool," Howard said, referring to the padded chair he sits on to ease his surgically repaired back.

As far as other candidates go, Bryant also said he would be "absolutely in favor" of D'Antoni and put in a word for Indiana Pacers associate head coach Brian Shaw, his former teammate and assistant coach in L.A., as another coach he has an "affinity" for.