By Mike Bresnahan
November 13, 2009
The smaller things in life ate away at Phil Jackson the last few years.
He felt the toll of 12 seasons as an NBA power forward whenever he stood for too long. Or shifted in his seat at a movie theater. Or simply walked from the locker room to the team bus.
The Lakers’ coach had chronic pain in his back, hips and knees, sometimes skipping games to rest his body.
But Jackson, 64, is feeling better than he has in years.
He is wearing an “unloader” brace on his left knee and seeing the benefits of years of physical therapy.
“I feel really good,” he said Thursday. “I have a device that really takes away a lot of the discomfort that I’ve had. That’s a real big relief for me as far as just having to deal with some issues when I stand or walk. I’m much better that way.
“As far as the edema that I was kind of suffering from flying, obviously, we haven’t been out on the road very much, but that’s well-controlled.”
It brings up a natural question. Because he’s feeling better, is he back next season?
Jackson is in the last year of a contract that pays him $12 million this season, and Byron Scott, who has expressed a desire in the past to coach the Lakers, was fired Wednesday as coach of the New Orleans Hornets.
The Lakers want Jackson back next season, for obvious reasons, and negotiations would be hassle-free, possibly starting as soon as Jackson picks up the phone and calls Lakers owner Jerry Buss.
Jackson typically goes through a health checklist after every season before determining whether to return.
For once, though, health wasn’t the main concern for Jackson when asked about coming back next season. Rather, it might come down to the Lakers’ playoff success . . . or lack thereof.
“It’s all about the season, playing together and how we’re going to do,” Jackson said. “I think that’s the only way you can address it right now.”
Jackson has had both hips replaced and underwent an angioplasty in 2003 to clear a blocked artery in his heart.
The knee brace he is wearing is custom-made, meant to “unload” pressure on the knee by applying more weight on the thigh bone and shifting it away from the knee itself.
Players and team personnel have noticed Jackson’s changed disposition this season.
“When you have a bad back, it’s easy to be grumpy,” forward Lamar Odom said. “I’m not saying that P.J. was grumpy, but most likely, he’s feeling good now.”
Scott, 48, was replaced Thursday by New Orleans General Manager Jeff Bower after the Hornets started out 3-6. Scott was in the last year of his contract.
“I think we’re all surprised,” Jackson said. “It’s pretty early in the season. I know that firing’s very hard on owners, but usually the players fire the coach before the owner has to fire him. The players stop responding to the coach. This is a league in which attendance is a key that drives what we’re going to do. Teams have to be able to compete on the floor.”
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