LOS ANGELES -- Are the Lakers trying to low ball Phil Jackson?
The 10-time title winning coach, in the last year of his current contract with the Lakers that pays him a reported $12.5 million for 2009-10, told reporters Wednesday prior to Game 2 of the Western Conference finals that he has already had discussions with the team's front office about coming back next season and the Lakers want to reduce his salary.
"It's been indicated there will be a salary cut but not ... I'm not going to say 'down,' that's kind of weird to say stuff like that," Jackson said. "It's still a ridiculous salary whatever it is."
The pay cut was first reported by Michael Wilbon when he appeared on Tony Kornheiser's WTEM-AM radio show in Washington D.C. on Monday.
"Jackson's been told that not only will he not be making $12 million next year, it's going to be a $5 million cap on his salary," Wilbon said, citing unnamed sources.
Jackson first mentioned the potential pay cut on Dec. 19 before the Lakers played the Nets in New Jersey.
"A lot of it has to do with the direction the league is going, the direction the ownership wants to go in," Jackson said. "People are cutting costs all around the league, and coaches are obviously going to take a cut too, so they may not even want to hire me. They may want to save some money."
When a reporter followed up Jackson's statement by asking him if he would accept a lowered salary, Jackson responded, "Would you?"
On April 28, Jeanie Buss, Jackson's girlfriend and the daughter of Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss, told ESPNLA.com's Ramona Shelburne that Jackson would definitely be back on the sidelines for the 2010-11 season, just not necessarily in Los Angeles and that her father had already planned on offering Jackson lower pay.
"I know Phil will be coaching next year, somewhere. Whether it's here or someplace else I don't know," Jeanie Buss, Lakers executive vice president, said. "There's going to be a lot of good jobs that come up this summer.
"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. 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?"
The future of the 64-year old coach has been a mystery surrounding the team all season.
On March 26 in Oklahoma City Jackson said, "No decision and no leaning at all. I'm leaning against the wall and that's about it," after a report surfaced earlier that day that Jackson had made his decision to return.
On May 4, during the second round against the Utah Jazz, Jackson said, "I'd say it's 90 percent that if I'm coaching it'll be here."
On Monday, prior to Game 1 of the conference finals, Jackson modified the line he used in Oklahoma City, saying, "I'm leaning on a podium, that's about it," when asked about a radio interview with Fox Sports Radio's "The Petros and Money Show" when Jackson's stance seemed to waiver.
"Well I think it's pretty good," he said following a question about his chances of retiring after this season. "It's really about how I feel about getting into another 82-game season. It's a commitment."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.