Phil Jackson laughed off Lakers GM

Updated: May 22, 2013, 1:47 PM ET
By Arash Markazi | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- When Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak called Phil Jackson to tell him the Lakers were hiring Mike D'Antoni instead of him as coach, he responded the only way he knew how.

"I laughed," Jackson told ESPN's "Mike & Mike in the Morning" show Wednesday. "It was humorous to me when Mitch said that we think that Mike is a better coach for this group of guys."

Jackson had been prepared to tell Kupchak whether he was interested in returning to the Lakers' bench the next day, but the GM called Jackson late that Sunday night, Nov. 11, to tell him the Lakers had decided to go in another direction.

NameI think they thought first and foremost about Steve Nash and how Steve Nash was going to fit inside of an offensive system that I coach. ... I think that was a concern for them.

-- Phil Jackson, on the Lakers' process
of hiring a coach

Jackson said he thinks the Lakers made the decision largely based on catering to Steve Nash, their 39-year-old point guard who was limited to 50 games this season as he battled a variety of injuries.

"I think it didn't happen because there was some concern, How are we going to move in the right direction for this ballclub?" Jackson said. "When Mitch gave me the call close to midnight on Sunday night right before I was going to give them an answer Monday morning and said, 'We've made a choice. We're going to hire Mike D'Antoni. We think he's the best coach for this group of guys,' My answer was, 'For Steve Nash, yes, I agree, but for Dwight Howard, I'm not so sure.'

"In the process of thinking about how they could best use the team I think they thought first and foremost about Steve Nash and how Steve Nash was going to fit inside of an offensive system that I coach. ... I think that was a concern for them."

D'Antoni's up-tempo style had worked well in Phoenix with Nash as the point guard, and there was a feeling that reuniting the two would create another version of "Showtime" in Los Angeles. But Jackson felt that the Lakers could win by focusing on their talented big men rather than forcing them to run and shoot from the outside.

"They wanted to move to a quicker, 3-point-oriented game, which is kind of the rage right now in the NBA," Jackson said. "I felt like with Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard we could emulate a lot of what we did with Andrew Bynum and Pau and pound the ball inside and have an interior game that was strong. But it was their choice, and that's all right with me.

"It was OK with me if that's what they wanted to do. In fact, there was a little part of me that felt relief in not having to strap it up and make the decision and get on the road. I think it was only five games into the year, so we still had 77 games left to go in that season."

Although Jackson was interested in returning to the Lakers last season, he said he wouldn't be interested in the job now even though Lakers governor Jeanie Buss, whom he is engaged to, still thinks Jackson can coach.

"I don't see myself coaching again, I really don't," Jackson said. "When I discussed this with Jeanie Buss, she said, 'Make sure you tell them that Jeanie still thinks you can coach even though you might say you're not going to coach again.' Jeanie still thinks I can coach, but I'm not going to go there."

At the moment, Buss is not involved in the basketball operations of the team. But even if that were to change and she tried to persuade Jackson to come back and coach the Lakers, Jackson said he would try to persuade her to look at one of his former assistants for the job.

"We got people who can do this job quite well, and [I'd try to] convince her of that. I think that's the real truth," Jackson said. "The Lakers need to do a few things. They need to sign Howard, they need to get their monetary system, their contracts under order so they can move forward. That's their biggest challenge right now, management basically."

In his book, "Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success," Jackson revealed that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer two years ago when the Lakers were swept out of the playoffs by the Dallas Mavericks. Jackson said Wednesday that his health is a big reason he would not want to return to the rigors of being an NBA coach.

"The health issue is part of it," Jackson said. "It's an issue of getting back on the road and getting in at three in the morning and back-to-backs and playing four games in five nights at some point in the middle of the wintertime and not being there physically with the energy that you have to have to drive a team."

Jackson said he would be open to taking a front-office position in the NBA but is not actively pursuing that, either, as he considers offers that come his way. Jackson is currently working as an adviser to Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores as he tries to find a new coach for his team.

"I don't feel the ultimate urge to go back and be in management, either. Mentoring is something that I feel is good. I'm doing pro bono work for the Detroit owner and the Pistons organization, which is almost a conflict of interest when you think of the Bulls and Pistons in the '90s and the rivalry that we had. But they have a young owner that wants to do something different."

Arash Markazi

ESPNLosAngeles.com

SPONSORED HEADLINES

ALSO SEE