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Phil Jackson skeptical that Dwight Howard has reason to return to Lakers

May 21, 2013|By Eric Pincus

On Tuesday, Phil Jackson suggested Dwight Howard might not have sufficient reason to return to the Lakers this summer as a free agent.

"Would you?  If you felt like your game wasn't going to be featured?" asked Jackson on the Dan Patrick Show.

Jackson intimated that Coach Mike D'Antoni wasn't using Howard properly in the Lakers' offense.

"You have to play in to Dwight Howard.  You have to get back and reestablish him as the center that he potentially was going to be," said Jackson. "This year ... he had four or five less touches in the post. Most of the things he got in there were on the move."

Instead of pointing the finger at D'Antoni, Jackson put the blame on the team's primary decision makers.

"It's not Mike's style. I don't blame Mike for that," said Jackson. "That's the ownership or management made that decision. That was the decision that they have to live with."

The Lakers flirted with hiring Jackson after letting go of Mike Brown early in the season. D'Antoni got the job over Jackson on Nov. 12.

Jackson's impression, after meeting with Lakers executives Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak, was that he had been offered the position.

"Yes," he said. "It was proposed to me without any hesitation.  I was not being sold the job.  They wanted to hear me out.  I wanted to hear them out as to what their rationale was."

Jackson asked for the weekend to decide, but before he could give his response, the Lakers had already hired D'Antoni.  Though he didn't suggest on Tuesday that he would have taken the job, Jackson did express some skepticism that the roster was ready to win a title.

"I never had a feeling like, 'It's the right thing to do -- it must be done,' " he said.  "I told Jeanie [Buss] at one point ... 'I think maybe we can get out of the Western Conference. We're a good enough team.  We're a talented enough team but I'd hate to lose in the Finals again.' "

Despite their 45-37 regular-season record and first-round sweep by the San Antonio Spurs, the Lakers have said they have every intention of bringing back D'Antoni to coach next year.

The bigger question -- will Howard re-sign to play for D'Antoni and the Lakers?

"Now it's a critical time, is Dwight going to stay with them or leave?" asked Jackson.  "Now they have to figure out are we going to use this guy in the best possible form and support him in this role?"

The Lakers may have the means to significantly rebuild the team over the summer of 2014.

"They can reform that team and they can do it the right way, I think, but [Howard] has to be the keystone of what that future's about in that organization," said Jackson.

The former-Lakers coach also wondered how well Bryant will return from tearing his Achilles' tendon.

"Kobe's going to come back and he's going to be on fire.  But there's only a certain limitation you're going to have with an Achilles' recovery," said Jackson.  "There's definitely going to be a difference in his game.  It's not going to be the same. [The] pop isn't going to be there."

Jackson also noted the Lakers don't have the ability to play the running game that has been D'Antoni's style.

"They can't run because of the age and the incapability of speed there, and they've got to be in a half-court situation where they pound the ball and slow it down," said Jackson.  "But then you've got to be able to play defense -- get in those 80-84 type ballgames.  Then it becomes a priority to have defensive players at positions that can stop the ball, particular the guards and penetration.  That's the weakness."

Jackson is looking for a basketball operations position somewhere in the league.

Is he done coaching?

"I am," said Jackson.

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Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.

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