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Jackson Insiders Say It's Not Time for Decisions

May 12, 2003|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

Out there somewhere, beyond basketball and airports and prying reporters, Phil Jackson's lakeside home in Montana, his lakeside life in Montana, awaits.

The competition and the lure of championships and perhaps a personal relationship or two keep him in the city, in his Playa del Rey home, in among the crowds, when jeans and a T-shirt and his dog Bo in the woods might someday suit him better.

Jackson, who will be 58 in September, has a year left on his five-year, $30-million contract with the Lakers, the one that came with NBA championships in its first three years. Team owner Jerry Buss and Jackson have said they would discuss the parameters of a contract extension this summer, though neither attached much urgency to it.

Jackson, who underwent an angioplasty procedure Saturday morning, two months after two procedures that were to break up a kidney stone, attempts to abide by his Zen philosophies, in the day, in the moment.

While it was difficult to determine what career decisions Jackson, affected again by health issues, might mull while watching Sunday's Game 4 on television, people close to him said he was almost certain to coach through the end of his Laker contract, at least, but that he had decisions to make.

"If he feels like he has solved some of the problems he's had of late, the kidney stone and heart things, if I know Phil he'll want to come back," said Tex Winter, Jackson's close friend and mentor. "If not, if it's too big a risk, then he'll ask out.

"It'll be a personal matter too, between he and Jeanie [Buss]. She'll have a part in that decision, I'm sure."

Those who know Jackson say he'd only leave the Lakers prematurely for reasons of health, and while the recent issues have indeed shaken him emotionally, it is also not the time to make such decisions.

"Phil needs to be free of the season before he can absorb what happened," said Todd Musburger, Jackson's representative for 13 years.

Still, Musburger said, of Jackson's three options -- leave after the season, leave after next season, or extend for more seasons -- he considered the first the least likely to occur.

"Knowing him as I do, there is no question in my mind he has every intention of fulfilling what remains, meaning next season," Musburger said. "The topic of extending or doing more here was something that way before the kidney or heart issues, he always said, 'I really don't want to talk about until the season concludes.' "

Until then, Musburger added: "He remains totally focused on the job at hand. Today, he's not thinking about his heart, he's thinking about this game. He definitely will take a deep and intense look at what his professional life should be about. But no doctor has advised him not to coach. Including the group of doctors that took care of him [Saturday], no one has said, 'You know what, coaching could shorten your life.' "

As it was, Jackson spent the night in the hospital in front of a television that did not carry ESPN. So, instead of the Dallas-Sacramento game, Jackson watched a hockey game.

As of Sunday afternoon, before today's meeting with doctors and before he awoke with whatever soreness or perspective that might have gathered overnight, Jackson intended to attend today's practice and intended to board the charter flight to San Antonio. He could be talked out of it. There is a lot for him to consider beyond that.

"It's going to come down to a purely personally decision," Winter said. "First and foremost, he's going to consider his health.

"I know him well enough to know that his health and his life is more important to him than basketball."

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