|ESPN.com: NBA||[Print without images]|
LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Lakers are expecting an answer from Phil Jackson on whether he will return to coach them Monday, sources told ESPN.
If Jackson does want to return, it may take a day or so to work through all the details, and it's expected his first game back would be Friday against the Phoenix Suns rather than Tuesday against the San Antonio Spurs, a source said, but the job remains his to turn down.
As "We want Phil" chants echoed through the Staples Center during the Lakers' 103-90 win over the Sacramento Kings on Sunday night, quiet optimism was building amongst Lakers insiders that the gulf between what Jackson has asked for in preliminary discussions and what the organization is willing to do to bring him back is not impassable.
"I think there's a good chance," one source said. "But you can't get into his head because no one knows what's really in his head."
Sources have told ESPN that Jackson has asked for a salary in line with what he previously earned with the Lakers, significantly more say in basketball decisions, the ability to bring back several of his assistant coaches, and some travel restrictions.
However one Lakers source said Sunday night that he doubted Jackson would miss any more road games than he previously did.
"It's pretty difficult to coach in this league and get around the travel issue," another source close to Jackson said. "Shootarounds are a different story and so are practices after back-to-backs."
Asked why it was taking a while to resolve the situation, the source said, "He's just trying to figure out if he really wants to do this."
Kobe Bryant said Sunday that the uncertainty over Jackson's intentions is not affecting the team. The Lakers have beaten Golden State and Sacramento handily in two games under interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff.
"This organization moves pretty quickly once they have a direction of where they want to go," Bryant said, when asked if he expected a quick resolution. "For us players, we just go out there and do our jobs. It's not anything that's been a distraction for us. We just go out there and play."
Bryant said he has not spoken to management about which coach he'd prefer to play for, but he made his affection for Jackson and the other leading candidate, former Suns and New York Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni, clear on Friday night.
"Nothing concerns me about this organization," Bryant said. "They always make the right decisions."
While the Lakers waited on Jackson to think the situation through on Sunday, they interviewed former Clippers head coach Mike Dunleavy, according to a source. The interview, just Buss and Dunleavy, lasted an hour and a half. It went well, according to sources, and Dunleavy is in strong consideration if a deal with Jackson falls through.
Dunleavy coached the Lakers, replaced Pat Riley from 1990-91 and 1991-92, and also coached the Bucks, Blazers and Clippers. His last job was as GM of the Clippers. He stepped down in February 2010.
The Lakers had a phone interview Saturday with D'Antoni, a source told ESPN.
According to the source, the interview went very well, "except it still feels like it's Phil's job to lose."
There was no in-person interview with D'Antoni scheduled after Saturday's initial phone interview, a source close to D'Antoni told ESPN.
"Probably depends on Phil," the source said.
Almost immediately after firing Mike Brown on Friday morning, the Lakers zeroed in on Jackson, who has won 11 NBA championships, including five with the Lakers.
Jackson's longtime assistant Frank Hamblen has not been contacted by Jackson since the Brown dismissal; however, the pair had dinner together last month and discussed the prospect of returning.
"We asked each other if we were done, and I think we both thought we were," Hamblen told ESPN. "Obviously circumstances have changed dramatically since then."ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin and ESPN.com's Marc Stein.