By Mike Bresnahan Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES—The Los Angeles Lakers met with former coach Phil Jackson for preliminary talks Saturday, a feeling-out process expected to continue in coming days.
Jackson got together with Lakers executives Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak to explore the prospects of his return to the team.
The Lakers believe there is a 95 percent certainty he will be their next coach, according to a person familiar with the situation who was not authorized to discuss it publicly. Jackson has already contacted assistant coaches who have worked with him previously about joining the Lakers’ staff, according to people familiar with the situation.
The desire of Lakers fans and players to have Jackson return has been matched by management’s hope to have him back on the sidelines. There’s been speculation since Jackson’s departure in 2011 of a rift between Buss and the coach. That is not a deterrent in present discussions, according to a person familiar with them.
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 interest in talking to former NBA head coaches Mike D’Antoni, Nate McMillan and Mike Dunleavy.
No formal offer was made Saturday, but the job is Jackson’s if he wants it, according to several people familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak publicly. The people were unclear about whether discussions had advanced to the stage of salary and contract length.
The Lakers appear willing to give Jackson all the time necessary to determine whether 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 partly because of all the travel done by NBA teams. Jackson, 67, has always disliked the routine of 41 regular-season road games — effectively 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 against the Clippers, meaning a long, steady stream of 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.
If he returns, Jackson would bring back his triangle offense that was the basis for 11 NBA championships, six in Chicago and five in L.A., most recently the back-to-back titles with the Lakers in 2009 and 2010.
“That’s a logical conclusion,” said a person close to Jackson.
But the offense would include plenty of pick-and-roll sets to take advantage of Steve Nash’s playmaking ability. Nash is out until at least Friday because of a small fracture in his left leg.
There was no stronger testimonial for Jackson 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 averaging only 17 points in the last two losses. He went to Germany a month later for an innovative procedure on his 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,” Bryant said Friday. “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.”
Dwight Howard also gave an endorsement for Jackson, though he and Nash were curious to see how they would fit into the triangle.
“I think it would be great,” Howard said Friday. “He’s a guy I could learn a lot from. But until he comes, we have to put all of our faith into Bernie.”
Jackson would replace Mike Brown, who was fired Friday after a 1-4 start, the Lakers’ worst since 1993.
Logical choices to join Jackson’s staff would be Kurt Rambis, who can probably get out of TV analyst commitments, Frank Hamblen and Jim Cleamons, all of whom have been assistants under him in the past.