LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Lakers suspended negotiations
to extend coach Phil Jackson's contract until after the season.
The five-year, $30 million contract Jackson signed in June 1999
expires at the end of the season. Negotiations to extend the deal
began last summer after the 58-year-old Jackson decided he was well
enough to continue coaching, but ended last week.
"I have no hard feelings at all," Jackson said before
Wednesday night's game in Houston. "I actually think it's the
right move for them to make with all the free agents they have this
Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Gary Payton are three of eight
Lakers eligible for free agency after the season. Shaquille O'Neal
is under contract through 2006, although he's been in negotiations
for several months to extend his deal.
The Lakers were heavy favorites to win their fourth NBA
championship in five years under Jackson this season, and won 18 of
their first 21 games. But injuries to Malone, O'Neal and Bryant
have taken their toll, and they enter this weekend's All-Star break
with a 31-19 record, fifth best in the Western Conference.
O'Neal and Bryant are back, but Malone, sidelined since injuring
his right knee Dec. 21, isn't expected to return until next month.
Jackson acknowledged surprise at the Lakers' announcement of
talks being put on hold and said he'd speak with general manager
Mitch Kupchak this weekend. The coach considered retirement last
season based on a lack of energy before undergoing an angioplasty
during the playoffs.
"Everyone concerned in this important transaction understands
the business side of basketball," Jackson's agent, Todd Musburger,
said Friday. "We know that the Lakers have great appreciation for
Phil's contributions and we also know that Phil has enjoyed the
challenge and has obviously delivered great success to the club.
"While the future might be uncertain, of course we will be here
to continue to talk to the Lakers should they choose to do so."
When asked if Jackson will coach somewhere else next season if
no agreement is reached with the Lakers, Musburger replied:
"Phil's professional pursuits cover a wide spectrum. He's a man
who has some wonderful choices in life. My sense is he's got a
whole lot of games left to coach."
Musburger wouldn't comment concerning details of the
Jackson has coached nine championship teams -- tying him with
former Boston coach Red Auerbach for the most in NBA history. He
guided the Lakers to titles in his first three years. The Lakers
were eliminated by San Antonio in the second round of the playoffs
last year -- less than a week after Jackson's angioplasty.
Kupchak said keeping Jackson is a priority.
"It hasn't changed," he said. "We're putting this off to the
summer. Clearly there's a lot of uncertainty that surrounds the
team at this time -- and clearly in the summer, there'll be perhaps
even a lot more. So there is a lot to consider from Phil's point of
view and from an organizational point of view.''
Jackson's 162 playoff wins are the most in NBA history. He has a
regular-season record of 807-309 for a .723 winning percentage --
tops in league history.