Sources: Phil Jackson 'itching' for comeback
After nearly two seasons in retirement, Phil Jackson has become increasingly interested in working in the NBA next season, according to sources familiar with his thinking.After nearly two seasons in retirement, Phil Jackson has become increasingly interested in working in the NBA next season, according to sources familiar with his thinking.
That doesn't necessarily mean a return to coaching, as Jackson is known to be intrigued by the concept of moving into management for the first time in his career.
But sources told ESPN.com this week that Jackson is "itching" to go back to work after a long spell to recharge since leaving the Los Angeles Lakers' bench following the 2010-11 season.
Sources stressed that there is no specific opportunity in play yet for Jackson, who resisted coaching overtures from the Brooklyn Nets earlier this season and told longtime confidant Charley Rosen in January in a SheridanHoops.com story that he "has no intention of ever coaching again."
But NBA coaching sources say that stance will not dissuade teams with openings from approaching Jackson this offseason to gauge his interest, with the Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers -- who interviewed Jackson in 2005 and are known to be contemplating a coaching change -- potentially at the top of the list.
What has Jackson really intrigued, sources say, is the opportunity to oversee an organization in the patriarchal style of Pat Riley with the Miami Heat or in a role similar to that previously held by Larry Bird with the Indiana Pacers.
But it remains to be seen if a team will give him that sort of chance, given that the 67-year-old Jackson is the most successful coach in league history with 11 championship rings and has never held a prominent NBA personnel job.
There's always the chance, sources said, that Jackson will simply stay retired if none of the opportunities that arise prove to be the right fit.
But the presumption in league coaching circles is that teams with openings this offseason will naturally reach out to the most decorated coach available to see if there's any hope of persuading him to coach again, especially since it appears that the Lakers don't have a suitable role to offer Jackson at this time.
Although Jackson did speak with Lakers management about replacing Mike Brown in November before the club hired Mike D'Antoni instead, sources maintain that a return to Los Angeles is highly unlikely.
The Lakers' intent, sources insist, is bringing D'Antoni back next season to give him the chance to coach the team with a full training camp and a healthy roster. Pau Gasol and Steve Nash both missed more than 30 games this season, and Kobe Bryant suffered a season-ending Achilles tear this past weekend.
There would also appear to be little room for Jackson in the Lakers' front office, with vice president Jim Buss and longtime general manager Mitch Kupchak running the team.
Finances are another factor, since the Lakers would be paying top dollar for three coaches at once if they decided to replace D'Antoni after one season and turned to Jackson.
Jackson's engagement to Lakers executive vice president Jeanie Buss, sources say, is not believed to be a factor in determining Jackson's next stop.
While there is no known opportunity for Jackson to consider at present, that situation could change quickly with the end of the season looming for non-playoff teams, which will re-launch the league's annual coaching carousel.
Sources say that Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who already made that previous run at Jackson early in his Cavs tenure, is giving strong consideration to firing coach Byron Scott.
As for the Nets, ESPN.com reported in December that Jackson was the undisputed top target for owner Mikhail Prokhorov after the dismissal of Avery Johnson. The prospect of interim coach P.J. Carlesimo retaining the job has not been ruled out depending on how Brooklyn fares in the playoffs, according to sources. But coaching insiders continue to say that Prokhorov's well-known desire to make a splashy hire will keep Jackson and ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy at the forefront of his thinking.
Jackson also has been mentioned as a potential candidate to be involved with the new ownership group in Seattle in a front-office capacity that would include mentoring Brian Shaw to be the team's new head coach, provided that Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer successfully complete the purchase of the Sacramento Kings.
The job security of Los Angeles Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro has likewise been questioned all season, with Del Negro in the final year of his contract.
But ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard reported in February that Clippers owner Donald Sterling has no interest in pursuing Jackson -- no matter how much that would theoretically bother the rival Lakers and their fans -- because Sterling has never gotten over verbal jabs Jackson threw at him while with the Lakers.
After a lengthy period out of the spotlight, Jackson has been increasingly visible in recent weeks, appearing at both Shaquille O'Neal's jersey retirement and a ceremony to honor the New York Knicks' 1972-73 championship team earlier this month.
Jackson also recently joined Twitter (@philjackson11) and will soon be releasing a new book, "11 Rings," with author Hugh Delahanty next month.
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