The Los Angeles Lakers were having one of the best feel-good moments you could ever have. They just made it to their third straight NBA Finals’ appearance, and were looking to repeat. And what would it make it better than getting it on a hated rival, the Boston Celtics? The revenge on them would be so bittersweet. And for Phil Jackson and his Lakers, it had to happen.
And it did. Led by the heroics of Ron Artest in Game Seven and Kobe Bryant doing what he does best, the Lakers would conquer another NBA title and it to a collection of many great ones. For Phil Jackson, it would mean a lot.
And now, according to him, he would make the upcoming NBA season his last. And what would make your last season better than finishing it off with a three-peat? If the Lakers conquer a three-peat for this season, it would be Jackson’s fourth, and maybe final three-peat. But if the Lakers can’t, expect Jackson to return to the Lakers again.
Entering his eleventh straight season with Los Angeles, 20th with the National Basketball Association as a whole, Jackson wants this year to make it his last. But he will miss everything that he did here with the Lakers.
“I’ve kind of looked at every season as the last season, especially here for the last three years,” Jackson said. “It’s not all that different. If feels kind of much the same.”
Jackson has always been rumored of leaving the Lakers. Last season was the year those rumors came up again. But Jackson has made it official, this will be his last season. However, he was asked by the Associated Press if he is fully 100-percent that this is his final season as an NBA head coach.
“I can’t tell. Every year I like to think of going into a season and thinking, ‘This is it,’ and doing it the right way and putting everything I have into it, so this is just like a normal thing,” he said.
Jackson has been receiving pretty good reports from the doctor about his health. He is in good condition ready for another, and final, year of coaching. He recalled that making a decision of leaving the Lakers after next season was just a rather easy one.
“I just had to get away from L.A. and from the madness of winning a championship and go and retreat and think about it,” Jackson said. “It took me a couple days, but it wasn’t difficult once I came to the conclusion that this is just the way it should end, this is just the way it should go and it was time to come back. I kind of put it out in the press release that this is the ‘last stand,’ so I hope it’s not like Custer’s.”
What’s really on Jackson’s mind is the team that made the biggest splash in the NBA free agency this off-season, the Miami Heat.
“I think it’s quite a surprise to all of us in the NBA that this was what happened,” Jackson said about the Heat, who added LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Dwyane Wade. “I think a lot of people have taken shots at Miami because of that, but I think it’s all fair game. Players can go out and recruit. General managers and coaches can’t. They did a great job of recruiting these players. These players obviously wanted to collude together and do this. It’s going to make for a very exciting season, I think, and it’s going to be something that players and people are going to look forward to seeing on the floor.”
Jackson wasn’t very happy with the Lakers’ training camp so far. It is rather of a disappointment to him, or shall I say, a bust.
“This training camp is kind of a bust,” Jackson said. “You just have to try to do the best you can in this training camp. We’ll try to incorporate these new players, embrace them, educate them in what we do [but] we don’t anticipate in the first two weeks that we’re going to gain any ground, so to speak.”
The Lakers were struck by injuries from Andrew Bynum, Kobe Bryant, and Luke Walton. But Jackson is confident in Bryant to show up and ready to go, full-speed and having his killer-instinct in every game like he did last year, or every single year he has been doing it since he entered the league over a decade ago.
“Just recently Kobe said he’s starting to move and feel the right way and I anticipate he’s going to play some minutes, even over in Europe,” Jackson said.
Walton is rehabbing and fixing himself. He was limited to only 29 games in the regular season and 19 in the playoffs.
“He’s been working really hard on his physical condition during the summer,” Jackson said. “He hasn’t played basketball, per se, but he’s doing a lot of physical work. Hopefully he’ll be able to get up there and withstand it and we’ll be able to move forward with that second unit. In the process, we’ll kind of watch him during training camp and make sure he doesn’t go through two-a-days or things like that.”
The Lakers also acquired a young, hopeful small forward in Devin Ebanks, who recently agreed to a contract with Los Angeles. He will be needed, especially if Walton struggles.
“I can’t say I feel confident,” Jackson said of Walton’s health. “I’m hopeful.”
The Lakers will have their media day on September 30th and will have their annual pre-season game versus the Minnesota Timberwolves on October 4th.
“We’re going to go to Europe and we’re to be a showcase team for the NBA in Europe, which is fine, it’s our turn to go and we’ll make the best out of it,” said Jackson.
New players are here and look to try to make the most of it in training camp. These players include Ebanks, Derric Caracter, Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, and Theo Ratliff.
“We felt like last year our bench hit a soft spot sometime in the middle of the season. We had some things that didn’t jell quite the way we wanted it to go,” Jackson said. “We felt like this year maybe we had to have a little better support. With Luke being injured last year and only playing in a certain amount of games, 20-something games, it felt like it really hurt the bench chemistry. We hopefully backed up that position in case Luke has any injuries that prevent him from participating with Matt Barnes.”
At 65, Jackson has been doing a lot. Besides growing a nice, long beard, he also collaborated on a book with Andrew D. Bernstein. The book will be called “Journey to the Ring,” which recaps the Lakers’ winning 2009-10 season.
“It really brought me back and helped me embrace the season,” Jackson said.
Jackson recently had to take a paycut, but it is all fine with it.
“I was quite comfortable with [Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss'] proposition; it wasn’t hard for me to do it,” Jackson said. “No one likes to lose salary, especially after they win a championship, but it’s part of what is going on in the game and part of what’s in the process of getting back and solvent. This team needs to cut some things and some players have taken less in the process as we go along in this organization, so it made sense.”
Jackson needs a fourth three-peat, and his twelfth and final ring. He has good eyes on it.
“It’s an impossible task,” Jackson said. “You just go about it and don’t think about how difficult [it is] and play each game and don’t worry about anything but that.”
For Phil Jackson, it’s all or nothing. Jackson has to win this season for the Lakers. If he doesn’t, I wouldn’t be surprised if he returns for another year of coaching. I know Lakers fans don’t want him to leave, and they want him to stay more. But he is getting old and needs to have his time now to himself. He missed the Hall-of-Fame ceremonies of one of his great players he coached, Scottie Pippen.
Jackson can’t possibly keep returning and returning. Ending the chapter in his book like this would be great. But he’s going to need a lot of luck, and help. The Lakers won’t have their star center in Andrew Bynum until the ending of November.
“I don’t really see [being ready],” Bynum said about the team’s season opener on Oct. 26 against Houston. “I see more towards the end of November.”
Bynum was rehabbing his right knee and was undergoing surgery. Bynum was told by the doctors that he will have to wait possibly four weeks until being in full-contact and practicing again with his team.
“Now, that’s an unfortunate thing, but the type of surgery that the doctor did on his knee takes a little extra time,” Jackson said. “Obviously we hadn’t prepared and Andrew certainly hadn’t prepared for the fact that it could take an extra month and a half or so to rehab this type of surgery.”
Jackson was very important in the Lakers’ playoff-run, despite not being fully-healthy and was limited in minutes for some games.
“Even though he was, I’d say, 70 percent of what he could possibly do, it helped us out,” Jackson said. “It gave us a lot of support and we were really happy that he was able to do that … the force, the body being there, the size, those things all helped us.”
With Kobe Bryant and the squad these Lakers have, the sky’s the limit. I am really looking for Jackson to win. It would be a great ending to his career as a coach. So for the Western Conference teams, they should get ready. I am seeing these Lakers representing the conference for a fourth straight year.
And hopefully, they can get their third straight title.
And would make Jackson’s career better than having his last ever win in the NBA Finals…
Against the Miami Heat.