The Zen Master is stepping down as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. Phil Jackson, one of the most successful coaches in NBA history, won't return to lead the Lakers next season.
Jackson, who won three straight championships with the team,
agreed with Lakers owner Jerry Buss to end his tenure as coach, the
team said in a statement.
"In my opinion Phil is the best coach in the history of the NBA and he did a phenomenal job for us these past five years, for which I am very grateful," Buss stated in a release from the team. "Not only did he help lead us to three more championships, but he helped the Lakers regain our status as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, franchises in all of sports. In addition to his success on the court, Phil was also a pleasure to deal with off the court."
Buss offered Jackson another position with the organization,
which Jackson will decide whether to accept in the near future, the
"The experience of the past five years has been great,"
Jackson said. "Three rings and a fourth opportunity makes this a
bittersweet ending, but it's time to pause and reflect. I'm
appreciative of all the Lakers, the organization, the fans and Dr.
Jackson's agent, Todd Musburger, told ESPN's David Aldridge in a telephone conversation Friday evening that while he expects to field offers for Jackson to coach in the NBA next season, he does not expect Jackson to accept any.
"I don't think there's a position out there that would be just right for him," Musburger said. "I suppose I should never say never ... but this is a great opportunity for him to take a breather and I think he'll do it. He had a great year off after he left the Bulls" after the team's sixth NBA title in 1998.
Jackson leaving as coach was expected even before he met with Lakers owner Jerry Buss on Friday after participating in
season-ending interviews with several players earlier in the day.
Also expected was Kobe Bryant's decision to become an unrestricted free agent, opting out of his contract. Less so was Shaquille O'Neal's request for a trade, which ESPN.com's Marc Stein learned of Friday night.
Jackson's five-year, $30 million contract expires at the end of
the month. He was discussing a contract extension, but the Lakers
broke off talks in February until after the season.
Jackson is well-known for his offbeat coaching style and
motivational ploys, from practicing Zen philosophy to urging his
players to meditate and buying them books for long road trips.
Jackson joined the Lakers in June 1999, and coached them to
their first championship in 12 years in his first season. Two more
titles followed, giving Jackson nine to tie him with former Boston
coach Red Auerbach for the most in NBA history.
The Lakers were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs
by eventual champion San Antonio last year and reached the NBA
Finals this year before losing to the Detroit Pistons.
In 14 seasons as a head coach, Jackson is 832-316 for a .725
winning percentage -- best in NBA history. His 175 playoff wins are
the most ever and his .717 postseason winning percentage is also
Jackson, 58, coached the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls to
championships in 1992-94 and 1996-98. Jackson then took a year off
before becoming coach of the Lakers. His teams in Chicago and Los
Angeles had a 9-0 record in the NBA Finals before this year.
Among names mentioned already as possible successors are former
Houston Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich, former Seattle SuperSonics
and Milwaukee Bucks coach George Karl, and current Southern
California coach Henry Bibby.
Aldridge is reporting that the Lakers already have contacted Bibby and are expected to contact Tomjanovich.
Other possibilities could be current Lakers assistants Jim
Cleamons and Kurt Rambis. Jackson succeeded Rambis five years ago.
There could be several more changes to follow.
Musburger hinted to Aldridge that Jackson wasn't pleased that talks never resurfaced. Asked whether his client was relieved that his future had been resolved, Musburger said, "I don't think I'd use that word. [Jackson]'s a competitor. The gleam is still in his eye. When you're so good at something and you've had the success like he has, it takes an awful lot for you to say that you're not coming back."
There could be several more changes to follow for the Lakers.
Karl Malone has already opted out of his contract, although he
hopes to play for the Lakers if healthy. Gary Payton and Derek Fisher could follow Bryant and Malone and opt out of their deals.
General manager Mitch Kupchak made clear the team's priorities
Thursday when he said the Lakers would do anything they need to
keep Bryant and would try to accommodate O'Neal if he demands a
Apparently upset over Kupchak's remarks, O'Neal canceled his
exit interview. O'Neal, who has been one of Jackson's biggest
supporters, is under contract for two more years but could opt out
after next season.
Jackson seemed in good spirits as he left the Lakers' practice
facility for the last time as the team's coach -- before his meeting
Asked whether he was looking forward to meeting with his boss,
Jackson smiled and replied: "Oh, yeah."
Buss' daughter, Jeanie, Jackson's longtime girlfriend and the
Lakers' executive vice president of business operations, said
earlier this month she believed there was a 95 percent chance
Jackson would return as coach.
She proved to be wrong.
Jackson said after the Lakers' 100-87 loss to the Pistons on
Tuesday night that there was "a pretty slim chance" he would
coach the team next season.
He proved to be correct.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.