It hit Lakers vice president Jeanie Buss like a load of bricks Tuesday night as she rode to Staples Center for Game 5 of Los Angeles' first-round playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder with Phil Jackson, her longtime boyfriend and the Lakers' head coach.
With the teams tied 2-2 in this best-of-7 series at the time and Jackson in the final year of his contract, this could have been the last time they rode to a Lakers home game together.
She doesn't, however, believe it will be the last time she rides with him to a game he'll be coaching.
"I know Phil will be coaching next year, somewhere. Whether it's here or someplace else I don't know," Buss said. "There's going to be a lot of good jobs that come up this summer."
Buss wouldn't elaborate on which jobs might interest Jackson if he doesn't extend his career with the Lakers. But she was emphatic that the choices aren't limited to Jackson returning to the Lakers or retiring.
"I know that he can't just retire," she said. "I'm like, 'Honey, what are you going to do? Are you going to help your kids go change diapers and stuff?' "
Jackson has yet to give a concrete answer on what his future with the Lakers holds, except to say that how the team finishes this season largely will be the determining factor.
Lakers owner Jerry Buss, Jeanie Buss' father, and general manager Mitch Kupchak both have publicly expressed a desire for the 64-year-old Hall of Fame coach to return.
At issue, though, is whether he'd be paid $12 million a season again, if Jackson's health will hold up, and whether he would want to coach the Lakers if they fail to repeat as champions this year.
"I think if they win, it's like a no-brainer he'll come back because he'll want to win three in a row," Jeanie Buss said. "But [if they don't win], if there isn't that connection, he would understand.
"Plus, my dad has made it very clear he doesn't want to pay him what he's been paying him. So that's kind of hard, too. You could kind of say, in some jobs, well, I'm cutting back your hours. But can you see him cutting back his hours?
"It's not really about the amount of money, it's about, 'I can't give you less effort.' "
In March, Jackson told reporters he wasn't leaning one way or another, but that winning a title was virtually the only way to ensure he'd return.
"Yeah. If we win it's almost imperative to give it another shot, but there are a lot of ifs in there. Winning is a really big if," Jackson said. "There are four playoffs you have to get through before you can say that we won and we have a chance to do something special and unique again.
"I think how we make it through the year has a lot to do with it. ... Dr. Buss said that he put some things on the line by re-signing Lamar [Odom], so it's financial. This team has never lost money since he took over the team so that's a big part of it. I pushed him to sign Lamar and we all said we have to have this guy back even if it's going to put this team in jeopardy financially. At a time when it's tough in this league, he took the step."
Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com