Even Phil Jackson gets sticker shock when considering the $48.5 million contract extension the Los Angeles Lakers gave to a 35-year-old Kobe Bryant, but the legendary coach still sees merit in the move.
"They paid him more than I would have gone for, but what he's given to this organization, what he gives back, he brings a certain sense of, 'We're going to win!' " Jackson said during an interview that aired on NBA TV on Thursday. "You got to have a guy on the team that doesn't settle for second. That's one of the areas where the value of Kobe, even at this age, is terrific."
Jackson, who teamed with Bryant in Los Angeles to win five of his record-setting 11 NBA championships, has confidence that the injured guard will return to form after he recovers from the fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee that will keep him out at least three more weeks.
"I think he'll be back," Jackson said. "I think Kobe is going to be still a scorer. He can score. We saw Michael Jordan at the end of his career still scoring 20 points a game and he was 37-38, I think. Maybe he was 38-39, I can't really remember. But I think Kobe can still post up. I think he can still be a good screen-roll player. He's going to hit shots. He can still shoot the 3-pointer. I think he's really realistic about it. He's really pleased. He felt like, you know, I will come back."
Bryant is averaging 13.8 points, 6.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 42.5 percent shooting in six games this season.
"Kobe's minutes he's played, the time he's been on the floor, the duress and the way he's played has taken a toll, obviously," Jackson said. "And his injury, I think , was part of the chain of events that happened because of his Achilles tendon. Unfortunately it set him back and now he's got a knee injury."
Jackson, who was passed over by the Lakers last season for their head coaching vacancy after Mike Brown was fired, said that Dwight Howard might not be on the Houston Rockets today if he had been given the opportunity to return to the Lakers for a third stint as head coach.
"There's a good chance that would have happened," Jackson said of Howard signing an extension with the Lakers if he was the coach. "Dwight gave up a little bit early on the Lakers, but maybe it wasn't for him. Maybe he just didn't find the culture exactly what he needed to benefit and blossom from the game. But it cost the Lakers a lot. It cost them a draft pick."
Coming into Thursday, Howard's Rockets were fifth in the Western Conference with a 31-17 record. Howard is averaging 18.1 points and 12.5 rebounds while shooting 57.1 percent from the field.
"He's doing, I'd say, OK," said Jackson. "I think his game has gone backwards since he was in the '09 playoffs and championship playoffs that year. His post-up game has not developed and that's the one thing that I felt he can really advance himself with Kevin McHale as his coach and I just don't know if that's happened or not this year."
Bryant made a similar critique of Howard's limited offensive game before the Lakers played the Rockets in Houston earlier this season. Only Bryant issued it in the form of a challenge.
"He always wanted to compete with some of the all-time greats -- the Chamberlains, the Shaqs, the Olajuwons and so forth," Bryant said. "This year should be the year where he can start putting up those types of numbers -- 25-26 points a game. That sort of thing."
Jackson might not have been given the opportunity to coach Howard in L.A., but will he ever coach again?
"My stock answer has been I have no intention of coaching again," said the 68-year-old Jackson. "That's been my stock answer for the last two years. Physically I have to reconcile the fact that I'm in a position where after five operations in three years, four years (coaching would be hard). Recovering from operations is difficult enough. When you're a kid you can do it relatively easily as we did when we were players, but at my age it takes a little bit more to recover from it and then health becomes the priority.
"Traveling, late nights, being up and down the court, which is really something that's important to me as a coach -- I coached my last year from a bench at midcourt because I couldn't get up and down the court and I knew it was time to leave. So, there's some of the reasons why I sit here and say I have no intention of coaching. But who knows? Maybe I'll have regenerative tissue that will get me back at it."