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Jackson's Second-Chance Points

Laker coach, saying he's 'a lucky man' and grateful for new 'lease on life' after procedure to clear blocked artery in heart, expects to be on bench tonight for Game 5 in San Antonio.

May 13, 2003|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

Phil Jackson plans to coach for as long as the Lakers stay in this postseason, then will determine this summer if he is able to continue his career, he said Monday.

Back among his staff and players for the first time since Saturday's angioplasty procedure opened an artery in his heart that was 90% blocked, Jackson wore sunglasses indoors Monday afternoon, but appeared comfortable and pleased with his early progress.

After resting at his home in Playa del Rey during Sunday's Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals, won by the Lakers, Jackson ran Monday's meetings and practice, boarded the team flight to San Antonio in the afternoon, and was intending to be on the bench tonight for Game 5. The best-of-seven series against the Spurs is tied at two games apiece, the Lakers having won the last two.

"Feeling good," Jackson said. "Feel like a lucky man, actually. Two things: One, we're back in the hunt in these playoffs with a team that's rejuvenated and, secondly, having a lease on life again, that's great."

The weeks before the procedure, he said, were wrought with chest pain and lethargy, prompting him to seriously consider quitting after the season, with a year remaining on his five-year, $30-million contract. Previously, Jackson had spoken of a possible contract extension, of summer negotiations with team owner Jerry Buss and more seasons with the Lakers.

Dulled by a bout with kidney stones and the procedures that attempted to rid him of them two months ago, then with the gathering trouble in his heart, Jackson began to assume he'd lost the energy and enthusiasm necessary to handle the rigors of another basketball season.

So, he smiled easily before the dozens of cameras and notepads that greeted his return to the team's training facility in El Segundo. Jackson said he did not know for sure that he would coach beyond this spring, but added that he'd already experienced a jolt of energy, and he left a sense that he was optimistic about next season.

"It's something that actually is a happy spell for me, because I really had thought seriously that I wasn't going to be capable of going on from this year as a coach," he said. "[I'd believed], 'If we get through this year, this would be it for me.' I didn't have the right energy. I didn't have the right ability to get out and do the things I wanted to do on the court. Having this come to a head, and the [resolution] of this, gives me the opportunity to go forward and see what it's going to be like.

"I said all along, if I felt in reasonable health, I'd finish my contract. That's, you know, obviously what I'll try to accomplish in this time period after the year.... I will consider whether I can do next year with the kind of fervor and desire and energy and all those other things I need to after the season is over. Assess where I could be."

If Jackson were not to return, it would appear that assistant Jim Cleamons would get serious consideration to take over, as might assistant Kurt Rambis, who served as interim coach for most of the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season. Cleamons is 3-1 as Jackson's replacement this season, and was the coach of record for the victory in Game 4 against the Spurs. Rambis posted a 25-13 record in his bobtailed season, after which the Lakers beat Houston in the first round of the playoffs, 3-1, before being swept by San Antonio.

Jackson will be 58 in September. He has had other, unpublicized health issues in the last year or so, though nothing as complicated as the kidney stones or as life-threatening as a blocked artery. If he does coach next season -- it would be his 14th as a head coach in the NBA, his 19th altogether, counting five in the minor league Continental Basketball Assn. -- he said only then would he consider going beyond five years.

"I think we have to approach it and just say I'll do what has to be done this year, look and see how I feel about it during the summer," Jackson said, "and come back if I have the right energy in the summertime to approach this job the next year, to do the best I could do to fulfill that contract."

Meantime, the Lakers find themselves in yet another knock-down series, needing to win at least once on a floor where they've never won, and they've arrived at the most fatiguing part of it when the teams alternate home-floor advantage over the last three games.

Team internist John Moe, who aided in Saturday's angioplasty, and team physician Steve Lombardo accompanied the Lakers to San Antonio.

There was no sense that Jackson would not be able to perform as usual and every indication he would be better equipped physically.

"It looks like it opened up more oxygen to his brain than his heart," assistant Tex Winter said, smiling. "I told him, 'I think I'll go in and have mine fixed.' "

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