Everyone’s favorite story line over the past couple of years has been Phil Jackson’s impeding return to the Lakers. Ever since Jim Buss publicly gave himself a strict deadline to make the Lakers competitive again, the rumors have swirled that Phil Jackson would eventually find his way into the Lakers front office. In an interview with Jackie MacMullan from ESPN Jackson discussed his opt-out clause and his intentions on exercising it or not:
JM: You have an opt-out clause in your contract after this season. Do you plan to exercise it?
PJ: I have not entertained that. I’m looking for this Knicks team to get back into a situation where they are competitive. Do I have to win a championship before I feel I’ve done the job I’ve been asked to do, which is to bring this group back to that competitive level? No, I don’t. We’re starting to make progress. I like a lot of the things we are doing here. But we’ve got more to do.
JM: Lakers executive vice president of basketball operations Jim Buss said if the Lakers didn’t make it to the Western Conference finals by 2017, he would step down. It’s unlikely the Lakers will meet that goal. Why not go back and run your old team?
PJ: They’re moving forward in the right direction. Luke (Walton) has them engaged, Brian (Shaw) is an associate head coach; they have a core group of guys that will get it done. It was never important to me to go back and be a part of that. Especially not now. I have this job, this commitment.
JM: Then why bother to include the opt-out clause?
PJ: The real issue with the opt out was simply my rationale regarding the (potential) lockout. If it was going to happen in December and everybody chose to walk away, there was no way I was going to sit in New York for three, four months when I didn’t have a job, because (the players) aren’t even allowed to show up to work. So, in that case, I would go back to L.A.
There are many people on both sides of the fence regarding Phil Jackson coming back to LA, but for now it would be against league rules for either Jackson or Jeanie Buss to even hint at the possibility. The Lakers have stuck to their guns so far through this rebuild and with a better start than projected, they might be closer to competing than thought. Regardless of what happens with Jim Buss this summer, the Lakers have a clear path to competing once again, and it would be unwise to change course this deep into the rebuild.