Lakers Are Quick to Start Saying Their Goodbyes
By Michael Wilbon
Thursday, June 17, 2004; Page D01
AUBURN HILLS, Mich.
The children of Phil Jackson, two sons and two daughters, accompanied their father to his postgame news conference Tuesday night. Never one to miss a chance to make a social comment, Jackson said, "I always see the ballplayers bring their kids out so I thought, you know, I could bring my kids out."
However, Jackson had to know he was also bringing speculation into the room. Did he invite his children because this session would amount to a farewell of sorts for a coach who has been rumored for weeks to be fed up and then some coaching the Lakers?
Jackson danced around the question, but not for long. "Right now I would say that it's a pretty slim chance that I'll be back coaching next year," he said. "It's a pretty slim chance. I've had a lot of persuasion given to me by these kids. They were hoping I could win the 10th [NBA championship] and then retire, but maybe losing this one, this opportunity is enough for me to say that it's time to give it up."
Jackson danced a little more, said he wasn't quite ready to make such a decision right now. There is some talk that he could return if Shaq and Kobe came back after putting their differences aside, and that he could return if the club improved its roster.
It all sounds nice, but Jackson is done as coach of the Lakers. Before the postgame session was over, he was referring to next year's Lakers as "they." There are players who said that part of the reason the team looked so disorganized and lifeless through five games of being manhandled by the Pistons is that they had tuned Jackson out, that they already presumed he was a lame duck coach.
Either way, it's over. After five seasons, four trips to the Finals, three championships and more drama than a soap opera marathon, it's the end for these Lakers.
Phil apparently will be the first to go, but it's fair to wonder how quickly either Kobe or Shaq will follow.
Yes, Kobe could turn down all the free agent offers he is sure to get and return to the Lakers (who can pay him more) to play with Shaq for a coach of great stature such as, say, Pat Riley. But haven't we seen enough of Shaq & Kobe to know the two of them won't work anymore. They didn't just finish runners-up to the Pistons; they lost in a way that suggests they didn't play with any fight. Maybe the time for Kobe & Shaq as a tandem has come and gone. While the presumption has been that either would be nuts to try to win without the other, maybe that's the best thing for each.
This is the kind of franchise-defining issue that Jerry West mastered all those years he ran the Lakers. Now it's Mitch Kupchak's turn to figure it out. Kupchak, the former Bullet, says he has no intention of trading Kobe, but it's time to wonder why not. Why not consider dealing him to Orlando (if Kobe will agree to a sign and trade) for Tracy McGrady?
If Kobe agreed, I'd make that move in a heartbeat (McGrady isn't yet a free agent so he wouldn't have any say, and he'd love to play with Shaq anyway). I'd explore getting Allen Iverson, plus a little something to sweeten the deal, from Philly.
Clearly, Kobe and Phil cannot co-exist. Kobe said all the right things in the aftermath of Game 5. He said: "I loved playing for Phil. I learned so much from playing for Phil and playing with Shaquille, too. I think we've got a lot of great things accomplished despite our differences. We've played extremely well together. We've had an incredible run. So, I would not be opposed to playing with them forever.
"It's just not up to me. It's not my decision."
Of course it's his decision.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company