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BASKETBALL : ON THE NBA

Lakers play tight defense

Jackson's reported pay cut, if he returns, is only the beginning, with players expected to take hits as well.

June 24, 2010|MARK HEISLER

Phil! Come back, Phil! Please come back!

Oh, you haven't actually gone yet?

Phil Jackson, who gave Lakerdom enough memories to last the century, may have one left as the Lakers' version of Shane, riding off into the sunset in the 1953 western with the little boy running after him, begging him to stay.

Suggesting how much of a local institution Jackson has become, Wednesday's suggestion that he's leaning toward retiring came as a shock, despite months of speculation he wouldn't be back.

Imagine Lakers ownership's devastation:

We didn't even have a chance to offer him his pay cut!

Owner Jerry Buss told Jackson he hoped he'd return when they met this week, although they didn't get into numbers.

Buss might not have wanted to spoil the moment, still reportedly intent on offering Jackson a $2-million-to-$3-million cut in his $12-million salary.

Management has been bonkers about money all season, and another title and $15 million to $20 million in profits doesn't seem to have cheered anyone up.

The Lakers made $40 million to $45 million last season. As far as they're concerned, they just lost $25 million.

There's a new austerity program across the board, with the little people in the organization expected to take major cuts too.

Whether that applies to the salaries the Busses pay themselves before profits isn't known.

The team will have to suck it up too, with speculation that the Lakers won't use their $5.9-million mid-level exception.

If not, there go Steve Blake and/or Mike Miller, who could have spelled Derek Fisher, who's 35, or Ron Artest, who's Ron Artest.

With the local careers of Jordan Farmar and Adam Morrison thought to be over, there's speculation within the organization that Lamar Odom may be moved to save money.

On the other hand, they just won their second title in a row going away, didn't they?

Oh, right. They won by the hair of their chinny-chin-chins.

Two problems led to this season's shortfall:

The Lakers took on an additional $90 million in salary and taxes to get Pau Gasol in 2008, assuming they would slash that figure by letting Odom go when his deal ran out in 2009.

Instead, Odom proved his value in the 2009 postseason with Andrew Bynum hurt.

At the urging of Jackson and Magic Johnson, Buss re-signed Lamar but only after pulling his offer at one point in unusually heated negotiations.

Even with Odom down to $8.5 million a season from his old $12 million, he cost $17 million in salary and tax this season.

Multiplied by four, the number of years on Lamar's contract, that's $68 million the Lakers hadn't expected to pay.

On the other hand, didn't Lamar just help them win two titles in a row?

Then there were the hard economic times that prevented the Lakers from raising ticket prices this season.

Of course, the prices will go back up next season, like a rocket.

Ask not what you can do for the Lakers. You don't have to. They'll tell you.

Finally, there's that looming menace all NBA owners are girding for, the 2011 lockout!

You think Wall Street got bailed out?

This would be like demanding a bailout before the crash, knowing you are going to pull the plug and cause it.

With both sides eager to posture, creating a perfect storm in the bonkers Internet age, the 2011 lockout is accepted as a fact of life, as if it had already happened.

A lockout that summer is, indeed, likely, with the owners asking players for huge give-backs.

Nevertheless, with the players in a non-militant posture, I'd bet that if it lasts into the season, it won't last long into the season.

Happily, you and I don't work for the Lakers and won't have to give up our savings to bolster theirs, just in case.

Of course, as Buss could tell you, sometimes you take the mandatory hit at 15 and bust. Things are tough all over.

--

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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