Phil Jackson Quits Lakers
EL SEGUNDO, Calif – The Zen Master is done coaching the Los Angeles Lakers (search) and his two biggest stars could be leaving, too. Phil Jackson (search), one of the most successful coaches in NBA (search) history, won't return as coach of the Lakers, the team said Friday. Meanwhile, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant took steps that could have them playing elsewhere next season.
A team source told the AP on condition of anonymity that O'Neal had requested a trade. And as expected, Bryant became an unrestricted free agent, opting out of his contract.
Jackson, who won three straight championships with the team, agreed with Lakers owner Jerry Buss to end his tenure as coach. Buss offered Jackson another position with the organization, which Jackson will decide whether to accept soon, the team said in a statement.
"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. Buss."
Jackson's departure was expected even before he met with Buss following the coach's participation in season-ending interviews with several players earlier in the day.
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 tops.
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.
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.
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 trade.
Apparently upset over Kupchak's remarks, O'Neal canceled his exit interview and later requested a trade. 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.
Kupchak said the Lakers will offer Bryant the maximum allowed — seven years and more than $140 million. That's a lot more money and one year longer than any other team can offer.
O'Neal, Bryant and Fisher all joined the Lakers in 1996. Bryant had his differences with Jackson, especially over the triangle offense employed by Jackson.
Jackson seemed in good spirits as he left the Lakers' practice facility for the last time as the team's coach Friday afternoon — before his meeting with Buss.
Asked if 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 following 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.