Sources: Phil Jackson in lead for job

Updated: November 11, 2012, 6:32 PM ET
By Chris Broussard | ESPN The Magazine

When Phil Jackson met with Los Angeles Lakers executive vice president Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak on Saturday, he asked for travel restrictions, a salary in line with what he previously earned with the Lakers and significantly more say over basketball decisions, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

The travel restrictions would limit the number of road games Jackson would have to attend, a source told ESPN.

While Jackson clearly remains the Lakers' top target, the meeting ended without an agreement and the group agreed to talk again in "a couple days," sources told ESPN.

Jackson was expected to give the Lakers his answer Monday, a source said.

"He's intrigued by the job but not completely sure it's the right thing to do," the source said.

Mike Dunleavy wrapped up his interview with Buss Sunday afternoon, according to a source. The interview, just Buss and Dunleavy, lasted an hour and a half. The interview 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 former Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks coach Mike 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. If he is amenable to a return under the right conditions, it likely would be on a two-year deal, sources told ESPN.

A source close to Jackson told ESPN on Saturday: "I can't imagine this not working out. Phil's health is fine now. That's no issue at all. Phil's feisty. He gets feisty when he's ready to coach. He likes this Lakers team."

Jackson also has been in touch with potential assistant coaches in the past two days, the source told ESPN.

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."

The name of former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan has come up as well, but he said he's not a candidate for the job.

"They won't contact me," Sloan said. "I'm not concerned about that.

"I'm concerned that my name is being thrown out there every time a job is open. It makes me look like I'm desperate. I'm not campaigning for any jobs."

With the Lakers courting Jackson so hard, other potential coaching candidates are wondering what happens if there's no reunion. While refusing to say his client is no longer interested, one representative for one of the top coaches available said the job has gotten less attractive over the past several hours.

"The (contractual) terms would have to be very favorable for whoever they hire if it doesn't work out with Phil," the representative told ESPN. "Because you're going to have to weather the initial storm, the initial storm of disappointment on the part of the fans."

Jackson walked away from the game after the Lakers were swept out of the second round of the playoffs in 2010-11.

In his final news conference, Jackson noted that he didn't have much of a relationship with Jim Buss.

"People took that the wrong way," one source told ESPN. "There's no ill will between Jim and Phil."

Bernie Bickerstaff will continue as interim head coach for at least another couple days, including for the Lakers' game against the Sacramento Kings on Sunday, during the grace period.

Despite reports that D'Antoni had knee replacement surgery and will be sidelined up to six weeks, sources told ESPN that if hired by the Lakers, he is expected to be available to coach within 10 days to two weeks.

"It's not going to be a long process; that's for damn sure," a source told ESPN. "But they're going to do their due diligence."

Jackson, 67, took last season off to avoid the frustration associated with a lockout-shortened season and to improve his health. Jackson, who underwent knee replacement surgery in March, is "getting better and better," according to a source familiar with the rehabilitation process.

"He's been in tune with the Lakers' season and has kept an eye on the league," a source close to Jackson told ESPN.

Jackson's presence never has fully left the Lakers. He still frequently stops by the team's practice facility to visit his longtime girlfriend, Jeanie Buss. Kobe Bryant often quotes Jackson maxims during news conferences. Even Jackson's two elevated chairs -- one he used at home practices and one the team took on the road for away games -- are still propped up against a wall by the entrance to the training room at the practice facility.

Should Jackson return to the Lakers, league sources feel he would be interested in bringing along an assistant coach or associate head coach whom he could groom to be his successor. Jackson feels like he owes much of his success to his longtime consultant Tex Winter, the architect of the Triangle offense, and he would like to pay it forward to another young coach. When Jackson spoke to Portland and Orlando about their head-coaching vacancies this past offseason, a mentor arrangement was discussed in both situations, according to a source familiar with the negotiations.

Although Jackson values the process of going through a full training camp when taking over a team, a source close to the coach told ESPN that could be mitigated with this Lakers' group because Jackson would be joining it with preexisting familiarity with the roster, namely Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace, whom he coached to a championship in 2009-10.

Jackson is in Los Angeles and was seen sporting a mustache, the same look he went with when the Lakers first hired him in 1999, at a recent dinner.

Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne and Dave McMenamin, and ESPN.com's Marc Stein contributed to this report.

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