Phil Jackson says he hopes to return as the Los Angeles Lakers coach next season and can't envision coaching anywhere else next year.
Maybe. Probably. Like 90 percent.
"I'd say it's 90 percent that if I'm coaching it'll be here," Jackson cautiously mused before the Lakers game against the Utah Jazz on Tuesday night.
Jackson's contract expires at the end of this season. The uncertainty over whether he'll sign an extension escalated last week when team vice president and Jackson's long-term girlfriend Jeanie Buss said that she thinks Jackson, 64, will coach next season, but wasn't sure that it would be with the Lakers. She said her father, Lakers owner Jerry Buss, doesn't want to continue paying Jackson at his current $12 million a season rate.
The Lakers ballooned their payroll to an NBA-high $91.3 million this season in their quest to defend the franchise's 15th title, giving lucrative long-term contracts to Lamar Odom and Ron Artest. Los Angeles has six players under contract through 2011-12 or beyond, including Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.
"I know Phil will be coaching next year, somewhere. Whether it's here or some place else I don't know," Buss told ESPNLosAngeles.com. "There's going to be a lot of good jobs that come up this summer."
When asked if he could see himself coaching someplace else next season, Jackson said flatly Tuesday night: "No. I really couldn't. I can't see that as an image, or even as a prospect."
However, several times during his pregame media session Jackson playfully dropped lines about the future such as:
"I know long range, I don't have much of a long range left in me."
"The playoffs are the playoffs and what happens after this is just gravy."
When asked if he was comfortable with the uncertainty surrounding his future, Jackson said, "Yes, I think so. I think that's the way our game is. That's the way the players end up having to make decisions in this situation that are very critical to not only their life but also to their sports longevity."
"No, I'm not," Jackson said. "I think it's a wonderful job for whoever takes it. It's a team on the rise and there's some young talent that showed their ability to come back after probably a devastating first two months. Then from January on they played pretty well."
Jackson has battled health problems in recent years, with two hip replacements in the past four years and a bout of plantar fasciitis causing pain and swelling in his lower legs. Jackson has appeared to be much healthier this season while leading Los Angeles to its third straight No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
Jackson won his 103rd playoff game with Los Angeles on Sunday, passing Pat Riley atop the Lakers' career list. His 214 career playoff victories entering Tuesday's game and 10 titles are the most in NBA history, and his 1,098-460 career record gives him the best winning percentage ever.
Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.