What could cause the air to come out of the Laker fans balloons, despite them being two victories away from a return to the NBA Finals? Losing Phil Jackson as coach to a salary dispute.
As previously reported here, Jackson has acknowledged a couple of times during the regular season that Laker ownership is looking to lower its costs of operation and it might include asking the coach to work for less. Original story found, here.
How much less was an open question until now. Jackson was asked during Wednesday night’s media session about whether the figure of $5 million per year was put to him by the team as reported by Michael Wilbon.
He danced a bit on the subject and later through a spokesman said the team has never told him he’d have to take a salary cut at all. Apparently, Jackson has gotten hints but no actual hard talk has occurred.
At his current rate of $12 million a season, a drastic drop of just under 60% seems a bit harsh and perhaps unbelievable.
Why would the Buss family chance Jackson fleeing the scene at his contract’s expiration date, even if he wanted to coach in Los Angeles again? Jackson was quoted as saying that last summer’s up and down negotiations with Lamar Odom might contain a clue.
“Lucky” Lamar took a month to decide to return to the Lakers but only after he seemingly angered the team’s owner by listening to pitches by other clubs, including Miami, despite his previous statements that he didn’t want to go anywhere else.
Jackson said he lobbied hard to keep Odom in the fold as a necessary piece to a repeat championship. The club’s payroll is tens of millions over the league salary cap which is paid back dollar-for-dollar in a luxury tax. And that was prior to re-signing Kobe Bryant to a contract extension and a raise.
If Jackson’s feeling that the club needs to hold the line on costs is true, wouldn’t you presume it meant keeping Phil’s salary the same, particularly if he returns to the Finals and wins?
The last time Buss thought he didn’t need Phil around, he hired Rudy Tomjanovich to coach a Shaq-less Lakers team. That was after they had been humiliated in the 2004 Finals by Detroit despite bringing in Karl Malone and Gary Payton to join Kobe and Shaq.
That experiment ended in a rare losing season and missing the playoffs. If media commentators presume that LeBron James will have a bit to say about who coaches him next season, can’t you imagine the same being true for Kobe Bryant?
His only success has come under Jackson’s leadership and he has to know by now that Coach K isn’t walking through that door anytime soon.
Nonetheless, if Jackson is asked to take an embarrassingly large pay cut, neither Kobe nor Lamar is expected to fork over some of their fortunes to keep him in that high chair he sits on. I just can’t fathom why $5 million would be floated, offered or accepted.
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