Mind you, Phil Jackson never told NBA.com he will return. Nothing has been decided, nor will it be until after the season ends. But with the speculation game in overdrive of late, it will undoubtedly reassure many to hear a statement congruent with Jerry Buss' to Steve Springer, along with Jeannie Buss' statements to Brian and me.
Silence often breeds imaginations running wild, whether you're talking about a media member reading between perceived lines or a Lakers fan adopting a diet of fingernails.
Jackson's comments should go a long way toward calming the nerves of either party, but in my long-standing opinion, there never was much reason for worrying to begin with. Not that PJ calling it a career after this season is entirely out of the question, but the"warning signs" have often been sweated absent of logic and careful thought.
For starters, there's the matter of Phil's currently non-extended status. Dr. Buss told Springer if he approached PJ with a formal offer, the coach would only say they should wait until season's end anyway. As I recently wrote, this is exactly how I'd expect Jackson to handle the matter. Coaches of his stature and age rarely make decisions earlier than necessary, instead opting to enjoy the luxury of being able to wait until the last second before committing.
True, Jackson says he feels better physically than in recent years, and for what it's worth, he definitely looks more fit and spry. But he also has no idea what his body, not to mention his mind will feel like come late June or early July. Coaching is a taxing profession, particularly for a 64-year-old with recently replaced hips and decades spent in the game. Even with the money he stands to make (more on that in a second), if waiting is a choice, I can't understand why Jackson wouldn't utilize that option. It's not like he's a lame duck in need of locking up job security ASAP. Save a massive playoff collapse, the man seat is sitting in the proverbial "cat bird" seat. We're seeing the same thing with Joe Torre as we speak (even taking into account the McCourt divorce factor) and PJ's approach feels like the utilization of a privilege earned.
As mentioned earlier, there's money. The jettisoning of Chris Mihm and Vlad Radmanovic, not to mention allowing Trevor Ariza to walk rather than meet an inflated asking price, have made one thing clear: Dr. Buss is willing to pony up for a honkin' payroll, but he ain't above cutting it when possible. There's a limit to his spending, particularly if the costs aren't deemed worthy. Add in Phil's now infamous "Would you?" reply when asked if he would consider a pay cut, and the sewing circle was suddenly a-flutter with gossip about The Zen Master walking over a lowered check.
In the meantime, it's gone largely overlooked "Would you?" is a classic PJ remark, offhanded (and often facetious) flippancy he often enjoys while having fun with the media. He was also, if memory serves, discussing this matter within the context of the economic realities affecting the world, the NBA, and even the Lakers. That's a considerably different matter than actively drawing a line in the sand or puffing up his chest in a defensive message to his owner. You can't possibly compare this to Shaq staring at Dr. Buss during a game and yelling, "Pay me!"
Even more potentially revealing, Phil acknowledged these leaner times during last season's exit interviews, noting how then-free agents Ariza and Lamar Odom might need to "sacrifice something in the process if they want to come back." And he wasn't talking about a virgin. Jackson meant money, and theoretically, he's aware the same rules apply to him. Maybe he'll prove a complete hypocrite when it comes to quite literally putting his money where his mouth is, but awareness is at least a potential positive. He certainly sounded amenable while talking to the media today.
Do I think he'd be willing to take $6 million instead of his current $12 million? Maybe not. But I also don't think a $10 million offer, give or take some scratch north or south, would be viewed as a slap in the face. You're still talking about an awful lot of money pocketed while cutting Buss' wallet a break.
As for the rumor the team wants to secure Byron Scott for the future while the getting is good, that's always struck me as far-fetched. Scott has undoubtedly enjoyed some success and has Laker ties, but has he really been so incredible it's worth ditching a coach with four titles over the last decade, continuity with the team and popularity among fans?
Not to mention Kobe's seal of approval, and if there's another positive attached to Phil's reassuring hints, it's the hopeful trickle down effect toward Kobe's own extension remaining unresolved. Sure, the odds of Kobe bolting feel about as high as me being brought in to replace him at shooting guard, but still, you technically never know, and that's what gives fans the willies. By all indications, PJ's return would only help make the seemingly inevitable even more so.
When asked about it on the blog or on air, Brian and I have always maintained a steady opinion: Phil Jackson will coach the Lakers next season. Today's developments hardly set the future in stone, but it's good news a hugely successful coach remains very open to proving us Nostradam-i.