Into the Hall, down to the crossroads . . .
Ten days from his 62nd birthday, with nine NBA titles, still walking with a cane after hip replacement surgery, Phil Jackson is entering the Basketball Hall of Fame. If you're wondering what's left for him with the Lakers, so is he.
"This could well be my last year of coaching," Jackson said before flying to Springfield, Mass., for tonight's induction. "I'm not saying it is but it could be.
"I think I have an outstanding offer to sign up again, but I have held that back because of my recovery. . . .
"Then there's the basis of how well the team does. . . . If this team doesn't move forward quickly, and that's, I think, the second round of the playoffs, then I think we have to reconsider."
Jackson, who had a second hip replacement in June, didn't come back to rebuild, any more than owner Jerry Buss hired him back at $10 million a year to make the first round of the playoffs.
Looming above everything is the possibility that this will be Kobe Bryant's last season here too, assuming that last season wasn't his last here.
The Lakers never considered trading Bryant, but after venting for a month he pointedly refused to take anything back and has yet to announce his final verdict on them.
Jackson, whose timeline is the same as Bryant's -- now -- and who shares the same concerns, is now trying to mediate between Bryant and management.
"I think I can [bring Bryant back], but it's not just me," said Jackson. "I think actions are going to have to speak louder than words. . . .
"It's going to take some mending and other people in this organization have to be part of it too."
Of course, if Jackson can heal this breach, it will have to be in his inimitable style.
Before leaving town, Jackson also told KLAC's Petros Papadakis and Matt Smith that Lakers Vice President Jim Buss "promised big changes . . . and we've yet to see that.
"And we still are looking for that big boost in our team. So we hope we still have one more [move] in us to include a player that really can play . . . the kind of role that you have to have to win in this game, someone who can [score] and can play defense and do the things on the floor to help us win."
The Lakers signed Derek Fisher this summer but made no trades.
They offered Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom for Minnesota's Kevin Garnett but were turned down and were unwilling to offer both for Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal.
The Lakers are left with last season's team plus Fisher and center Chris Mihm, hoping to repeat last season's surprising start without last season's injuries.
What it will take to restore Bryant's confidence remains to be seen, but another first-round playoff exit is expected to herald a new chapter in Lakers history.
For the moment, the Hall of Fame is getting more excitement that it anticipated. It's not every coach who zings the owner's son before going in.
Jackson's career has been one of the most colorful too, including his forays into publishing, like his 2004 book, "The Last Season," in which he called Bryant "uncoachable" and disclosed he had demanded that Bryant be traded.
Inventing a new niche -- the coach as a third force between management and the players -- Jackson has also taken independent stands before.
In Chicago he and his players fenced openly with General Manager Jerry Krause. Before they won their last title, in 1998, Jackson, whose contract was running out along with Michael Jordan's, called the season "The Last Waltz."
Bryant wouldn't discuss the Lakers while wowing everyone with his defense for the U.S. team last week during the FIBA Americas Olympic qualifying tournament in Las Vegas.
When Bryant shut down Brazil's Leandro Barbosa, Jackson's inbox overflowed.
"I got more e-mails after that game than I could respond to," said Jackson. " 'If you can get Kobe to play defense like that, we'll win a championship. . . .' "
"I saw what his dedication was when he went out there this summer. That's what his premise was, 'We're going to play D, and I've got to get ready to play the kind of defense that creates a standard for this team as a leader.' "
That was Bryant's dream team. This is his real-life team, for the moment, and all he and Jackson have.
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Hall of Famers
Phil Jackson coached the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships and the Lakers to three. He is one of five coaches to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., today.
Phil Jackson, NBA coach
Roy Williams, college coach
Van Chancellor, WNBA coach
Pedro Ferrandiz, European coach
Mirko Novosel, European coach
Marvin "Mendy" Rudolph, referee
Texas Western, 1966