Phil Jackson said it himself. He's ready for one last stand.
Energized after a week at his Montana lakeside home, Jackson decided to return for an 11th season with the Lakers, the chance to go for another three-peat outweighing the desire to be merely a spectator next season.
"Count me in," he said Thursday in a statement released by the Lakers. "After a couple of weeks of deliberation, it is time to get back to the challenge of putting together a team that can defend its title in the 2010-11 season. It'll be the last stand for me, and I hope a grand one."
He provided additional context in a brief e-mail to The Times.
"I got a message from on high … that said, 'Phil, you've got to come back, there is a need to fulfill the prophecy. You know 12 [titles] is a holy number and 11 just doesn't fill that.…'
"So I listened to my doctors and watched the sunrise and the sunset a few times and voila, I'm back."
Jackson, who will turn 65 in September, retreated to his summer home last Friday and cleared his mind by swimming in Flathead Lake and dropping a fishing line over his boat. The fatigue he felt after the season seemed to disappear into the Montana mist, and his decision was helped by favorable medical news that his two main health concerns — his knee and heart — checked out better than expected.
Financial details have not been finalized, but Jackson will either take a minor pay cut from the $12 million he made last season or receive close to that sum with a small portion allocated in deferred payments.
Most Lakers players were out of the country on vacation Thursday, but they unilaterally stumped for him in their exit interviews last week, Kobe Bryant even saying it was "killing my buzz" to merely ponder Jackson's departure.
Fast-forward to Thursday, and Bryant was glad to hear about Jackson's return while in South Africa, where he had been watching World Cup soccer. "I'm happy for him," Bryant said in a text message to The Times. "I'm happy for us and for our fans."
For Lakers officials still on the continent, the news of Jackson's return was met with similar satisfaction.
"I'm definitely happy he's back," Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw said. "When you win and your core pieces are in place, you want to keep going until somebody knocks you off that perch. With him coming back, it kind of completes that challenge to go out and defend it until somebody knocks you off.
"If he wasn't back, you still have that same core of guys, but without that coach there, it's different. I think everybody can take a big sigh of relief. Everybody's happy."
Said Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak: "He's not only the best coach for this team, but quite simply the best coach in the history of the NBA."
Shaw interviewed this week for the head-coaching job with the Cleveland Cavaliers and now becomes a front-runner to succeed Jackson after next season. However, next summer's potential lockout might have an effect, and there are no guarantees for Shaw.
A week ago, Jackson seemed to be in his final days with the Lakers when he told reporters he was "leaning toward retiring," citing health concerns and fatigue from the NBA's travel schedule.
Now, though, he will have a chance to take the Lakers to a 17th championship, a number that would tie the Boston Celtics atop the all-time NBA list. The longest-tenured coach in Lakers history, Jackson has coached 11 of the last 20 NBA champions, including six titles with the Chicago Bulls.
His due diligence began four days after the Lakers won their 16th title, when he skipped the team's championship parade to begin a battery of tests. He has had both hips replaced, has a chronically sore knee and had an angioplasty to repair an artery in his heart in 2003, but received doctors' clearances for next season.
Jackson mentioned last week the importance of family while pondering retirement, acknowledging he was starting to wonder "how much time you have left to live," but he ultimately decided to coach one more year.
The 2010-11 season awaits.
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