Lakers Coach Phil Jackson agreed to a two-year contract extension worth about $24 million, lending a sense of stability to a franchise that has teetered in many ways since May.
Jackson informed owner Jerry Buss of his decision in a Wednesday afternoon meeting that was termed productive and positive.
As if to celebrate, the Lakers went out and defeated the Denver Nuggets, 127-99, after trailing by 17 points Thursday at Staples Center. Kobe Bryant had 24 points and Andrew Bynum had 12 points and 13 rebounds, but the main matter was Jackson's decision.
The recent Hall of Fame inductee received a raise from the three-year, $30-million contract he signed in June 2005, which was the richest per-annum coaching deal in U.S. pro sports history.
He will preside over a team brimming with the potential of the 20-year-old Bynum, but also fraught with uncertainty until the Bryant situation resolves itself. Bryant has not stepped back from a trade demand and can terminate his Lakers contract in the summer of 2009 if he is not traded.
But Jackson, 62, has found an extreme comfort level with the Lakers. He gets along well with his coaching staff, lives only a few miles from the team's El Segundo training facility and is a longtime companion of team executive Jeanie Buss, the owner's daughter.
"The decision to return as coach and the decision to be asked to return as coach both had very little to do with Kobe Bryant and very little to do with the talent," Jackson said. "It's about the situation here -- the proximity that I feel to this organization, the comfort I feel working for this organization and the progress I think we're making.
"We look at some of our young players, we feel like we have got four or five draft picks in the last three years that are successful potential players in this game. It's fun to coach them. It's fun to watch them play. With Kobe's ability to give this team a chance to win on any given night, we want to watch the productivity of these young guys come along."
Jackson also suggested that Bryant would be along for the ride, at least for this season.
"Since the season started . . . there's not been one iota of trade talk going on," Jackson said. "It went up to a certain point and then the door closed and we've been going forward since that time."
Bryant was pleased with the news of Jackson's extension.
"I think it's great," Bryant said. "He's clearly, in my opinion, the greatest coach of all time. When you can lock him in, that's always a great sign."
Jackson is still a relatively strong motivating force with players and has found his health to be acceptable, a key factor in his decision. Jackson repeatedly said he would wait to sign an extension until properly gauging his strength while recovering from a second hip-replacement surgery within a year.
He was privately concerned about signing up for more time on the road, what with the toll of sleeping in uncomfortable hotel beds in city after city, none of which were guaranteed to have the steady weather of his Playa del Rey home.
"I kind of asked them to just be patient until I went on a couple road trips and worked my way through this season and got myself back physically in a position where I could feel comfortable coaching this team," Jackson said.
Jackson came back to the Lakers after the team went 34-48 in 2004-05, missed the playoffs for only the fifth time in franchise history and struggled to fill seats at home games down the stretch, finishing with 12 non-sellouts.
He helped guide the Lakers to a near-upset of the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the 2006 playoffs, although he acknowledged that last season's net result -- a docile five-game loss to the Suns in the first round -- was a step backward.
Jackson had a reputation for taking over only teams with Hall of Fame talent, but his career winning percentage has dropped from .725 to .699 during his second tour with the Lakers. He had won nine championships in 14 seasons before re-joining the Lakers, but his career playoff win total has climbed from 175 to only 179 since his return.
His career record in 17 seasons is 928-399.
The Jackson story has marked a riveting about-face by the franchise, which parted ways hastily with him after the Lakers' mini-dynasty sputtered in the 2004 NBA Finals against the Detroit Pistons. At the time, Buss suggested Jackson's methodical triangle offense had run its course, a revelation later described by Jackson as jarring and unsettling.
But Buss recently left the door wide open for Jackson's return beyond this season.
"If he feels up to it, then he will sign an extension, and hopefully, that's what's going to happen," Buss said in October. "I'm very fond of him."
In addition, Jackson has made peace with Bryant over the last couple of seasons after criticizing him in a tell-all book that came out in October 2005.
Jackson even appeared to side with Bryant this past off-season, granting a series of interviews in which he tweaked the Lakers' front office for not making big roster changes.
"Our relationship is at a very good level," Jackson said. "His leadership has become a big factor for this team."
Jackson dropped one last hint -- this might be his last contract extension.
"Maybe the 60s in this era is the 50s in the last era, and maybe I can go on into my 70s," he said. "But I really don't think so. To stay upbeat and abreast with all these kids is not an easy task. I can hardly speak their language as it is."