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LAKERS FYI

Lakers' Phil Jackson hasn't decided about next season

Coach says health and team's success will be the most important factors in his return. He thinks Kobe Bryant will be back.

March 28, 2009|Mike Bresnahan

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Phil Jackson wanted to set the record straight after seeing some unexpected words crawl across the screen on a cable-TV ticker.

He has not committed to coaching the Lakers next season despite comments he made this week that were misconstrued.

Jackson, 63, holds an option for next season that would pay him about $12 million. He will decide during the off-season if he wants to return after going through his annual checklist.

"There's a number of things that have to be done," he said. "I've got some health issues that I always have to maintain a little bit. That's my first priority."

If that's priority 1-A, there's definitely a priority 1-B in determining his possible return.

"I think a lot of it will depend upon our success this year," Jackson said. "We've put a lot of energy into this year. If we're successful, I think guys will want to come back and do it again."

If Jackson returns, will he be joined by Kobe Bryant? Jackson thinks so.

Bryant has the option of terminating the final two years of his contract after this season and becoming an unrestricted free agent.

The Lakers, however, can offer him more money (about $135 million over five years) than other teams who can offer about $129 million over the same span.

Furthermore, the "other" teams who might have enough salary-cap space to sign Bryant in July are few and far between, including Atlanta, Memphis and Oklahoma City.

So will Bryant be back with the Lakers?

"I don't see any reason why he wouldn't at this time, given the economic situation," Jackson said, referring to the lack of NBA teams willing to spend freely because of the economic downturn. "Things look maybe grimmer than they are, but the future's still a little bit undefined. I would imagine that it's probably best to stick with what you've got. But, who knows? That's his business."

Bryant, who will be 31 in August, has declined to answer questions about his future.

What if?

What if center Andrew Bynum came back sooner than expected from a torn ligament in his right knee?

Jackson has been erring on the side of caution, saying this week that it would still be a "considerable amount of time" before Bynum returned.

On Friday, he allowed himself to wander into "what-if" territory.

"If it's regular season, it's entirely different than if it's the playoffs," he said. "Playoffs are an entirely different game, and we know that those minutes have to be precious.

"In the regular season, we could devote significant time to getting his rhythm back and what not. But in the playoff situation, you just don't have moments to expend. We're hopeful he comes back late in the season. We know it's not a pressure situation where he has to do that."

MVP chatter

Bryant is one of the favorites to win the MVP award, but his eyes narrowed when he was asked how important it would be to win it again.

"It'd be a great honor, obviously, but I'm really, really focused on winning a championship," he said. "Really. Numbers don't mean anything to me. The only thing that means anything to me is winning."

Etc.

Jackson has been holding fewer practices in recent weeks, a sign of the Lakers' success and his desire to save wear and tear on the players. "These guys need to have their legs saved a little bit," Jackson said. . . . Former Lakers draft pick Joe Crawford has signed a 10-day contract with the New York Knicks. Crawford, drafted 58th overall in 2008, was averaging 20.8 points a game for the D-Fenders, the Lakers' Development League team. Because he was waived in October, Crawford was free to sign with any team at any time.

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mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

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