LOS ANGELES >> The Los Angeles Lakers spoke to 11-time NBA champion coach Phil Jackson on Saturday about returning for a third stint on their bench.
The Lakers confirmed on their website that Jackson discussed the job with owner Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak. They’ll meet again early next week.
Los Angeles fired coach Mike Brown on Friday after a 1-4 start to a season of enormous expectations. Interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff led the Lakers to a blowout win over Golden State later that night, and the Lakers said Bickerstaff will coach the club in a home game against Sacramento on Sunday night.
Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard have voiced their interest in playing for Jackson, and the legendary coach’s return to the 16-time champion franchise seems probable as long as Jackson decides he’s up to another stint in the prestigious job with a team that won five titles and reached seven NBA finals in his 11 seasons on its bench.
“Knowing him the way I do, I think it’s really just a matter of health, if he feels physically up to doing it,” Bryant said Friday night. “He’s a perfectionist. We all know he’s a perfectionist. If he feels like he can come in here and give what he demands from himself, then I think he would be interested.”
After several chants of “We want Phil!” broke out in the Staples Center crowd on Friday night, the Lakers had the day off Saturday.
Jackson walked away from the Lakers in 2011, eager to improve his health by avoiding the constant grind of NBA travel. The former Knicks forward spent nine seasons on the Chicago Bulls’ bench, winning six titles with Michael Jordan before moving to the Lakers in 1999.
Jackson left the Lakers in 2004 after the club lost to Detroit in the NBA finals, but he returned for a second stint after Rudy Tomjanovich and Frank Hamblen led Los Angeles to a 34-48 record in his one-year absence. After a rough start to his second stint, the Lakers reached three NBA finals and won two titles after acquiring Pau Gasol.
They fell short of Jackson’s fourth three-peat when they lost to eventual champion Dallas in the second round of the 2011 playoffs. Jackson followed through on his promise to leave the club, which didn’t acknowledge his departure with a news conference or any ceremony.
“The one thing that’s kind of always bothered me is that his last year, I wasn’t able to give him my normal self because I was playing on one leg,” said Bryant, who had knee problems throughout the season. “That’s always kind of eaten away at me, that the last year of his career, I wasn’t able to give him everything I had.”
If Jackson isn’t looking forward to travel, he could return at a good time. Los Angeles began a six-game homestand Friday night, and will host San Antonio on Tuesday night.
Bryant vocally backed Brown’s work over the past two seasons, including his decision to install a new offense that didn’t click immediately with Howard or Steve Nash. After reacting to Brown’s firing with shock, the fifth-leading scorer in NBA history said he would welcome a reunion with the coach who created a nearly impossible act to follow in both Chicago and Los Angeles.
Bryant has stayed in contact with Jackson during the coach’s retirement, even getting a couple of Jackson’s famed book recommendations.
“A lot of it is Phil’s fault,” Bryant said of the struggles of the coach’s successors. “He teaches guys to be thinkers. He teaches us the little nuances, the details and the intricacies of the game that just a lot of people don’t know. It’s no fault of their own. When it comes to basketball, he’s genius-level. It’s tough for anybody to step in those shoes afterward from players that were raised underneath that tutelage.”
Mike D’Antoni and Nate McMillan also are thought to be candidates for the job if Jackson declines. Kupchak said the Lakers are likely to hire a veteran coach who isn’t currently employed.