Phil Jackson has been rumored to be on his way back to the NBA numerous times… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
The Lakers concluded preliminary talks Saturday with former coach Phil Jackson, a feeling-out process that would continue, The Times has learned.
Team Vice President Jim Buss and Jackson met Saturday morning to explore the prospects of Jackson returning to the team.
The Lakers are unwavering that there’s still a 95% certainty he will be their next coach. It's known that Jackson has already contacted assistant coaches who have worked with him previously about joining the Lakers' staff. It doesn't appear to be a problem for Lakers management.
The desire of Lakers fans and players to have Jackson return has been matched by management's desire to have him back on the bench. There's been speculation since Jackson's departure of a rift between Buss and him. It does not appear to be a deterrent in present discussions.
Until it becomes a certainty that Jackson is ready to return to coaching, the Lakers will continue the search process. It's believed they have an interest in talking to former NBA coaches Mike D'Antoni, Nate McMillan and Mike Dunleavy.
No formal offer was made Saturday, but it’s well understood the job is Jackson’s if he wants it. Sources were unclear whether discussions had advanced to the stage of salary and contract length.
The Lakers appear to be willing to give Jackson all the time necessary to determine if he wants to return to coaching. Interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff will guide the team Sunday against Sacramento at Staples Center.
Jackson’s health is fine, according to people who have spoken to him, but he is hedging a bit because of all the travel done by NBA teams. He has always disliked the routine of 41 regular-season road games — 39 for the Lakers, who play two designated away games against the Clippers at Staples Center.
The Lakers have played only two road games this season, neither of them against the Clippers, meaning a long, steady stream of road trips awaits the team.
As Jackson ponders his immediate future, he’ll consider the late-arriving flights in different time zones, the sometimes unpalatable food, the unfamiliar beds and unpredictable weather that might be ahead of him.
No stronger testimonial for Jackson came than the one from Kobe Bryant, who seemed almost apologetic for sustaining game-changing soreness in his right knee toward the end of the 2010-11 season.
The Lakers were swept by Dallas in the Western Conference semifinals that year, Bryant scoring only 17 points in the last two losses. He went to Germany a month later for an innovative procedure on his ailing right knee.
“The one thing that’s kind of always bothered me is that in his last year I wasn't able to give him my normal self,” Kobe Bryant said Friday night. “I was playing on one leg and that’s kind of always eaten away at me. The last year of his career I wasn't able to give him all I had.”
“He’s too great of a coach to have it go out that way. That’s my personal sentiment. I took it to heart because I couldn’t give it everything I had because I physically couldn’t. My knee was shot. That’s always bothered me.”
Jackson would replace Mike Brown, who was fired Friday amid the Lakers' 1-4 start, their worst since 1993.
Logical choices to join Jackson's staff would be Kurt Rambis, if he can get out of TV analyst commitments, Jim Cleamons and Frank Hamble, all of whom have been assistants under Jackson in the past.
Times staff writer Broderick Turner contributed to this report.