Phil Jackson wondered aloud the logic behind the Lakers’ front office making a move, and this time it didn’t involve him lamenting getting pass over in favor of Mike D’Antoni last season to coach.
Instead, Jackson questioned why the Lakers would sign Kobe Bryant to a two-year, $48.5 million extension considering how that compromises the team’s cap space under a harsher labor deal.
“They paid him more than I would have gone for,” Jackson said in an interview on NBA TV that aired on Thursday.
But Jackson, who won five of his 11 NBA championships with Bryant, still understood the value he brings despite playing only six games first because of a torn left Achilles tendon and later because of a fractured left knee.
“What he’s given to this organization, what he gives back, he brings a certain sense of, ‘We’re going to win!’ ” Jackson said. “You got to have a guy on the team that doesn’t settle for second. That’s one of the areas where the value of Kobe, even at this age, is terrific.”
Part of that stems from Bryant’s never-ending determination from overcoming the odds. After seeing Bryant overcome countless injuries, Jackson maintained optimism the same scenario will play out whenever Bryant ultimately returns in as soon as three weeks from now. Bryant has only averaged 13.8 points on 42.5 percent shooting, 6.3 assists and 4.3 rebounds in six games this season. Yet, Jackson predicted Bryant “is going to be still a scorer,” and then lauded his moves on post-ups, screen-and-rolls and outside shooting.
But Jackson suggested that his heavy playing time contributed to his season-ending left Achilles injury, which then related to his latest injury in the form of a fractured knee. The Lakers have argued otherwise.
“Kobe’s minutes he’s played, the time he’s been on the floor, the duress and the way he’s played has taken a toll, obviously,” Jackson said. “And his injury, I think , was part of the chain of events that happened because of his Achilles tendon. Unfortunately, it set him back and now he’s got a knee injury.”
The Lakers haven’t just suffered from an injury-ravaged roster. They also have suffered a severe dropoff in talent with Dwight Howard leaving this offseason to the Houston Rockets.
If only the Lakers hired Jackson to coach, perhaps Howard both would’ve stayed and thrived better under his lone season wearing the purple and gold. After all, Howard through his representatives that the Lakers hire Jackson and later grew frustrated with D’Antoni, believing he didn’t feature him enough in the post and didn’t spend enough time coaching defense.
“There’s a good chance that would have happened,” Jackson said of Howard signing an extension with the Lakers if he was the coach. “Dwight gave up a little bit early on the Lakers, but maybe it wasn’t for him. Maybe he just didn’t find the culture exactly what he needed to benefit and blossom from the game. But it cost the Lakers a lot. It cost them a draft pick.”
Still, Jackson hardly remains impressed with Howard.
The Rockets (31-17) rank fifth in the Western Conference, while Howard has averaged 18.1 points and 12.5 rebounds.
“He’s doing, I’d say, OK,” said Jackson. “I think his game has gone backwards since he was in the ’09 playoffs and championship playoffs that year. His post-up game has not developed and that’s the one thing that I felt he can really advance himself with Kevin McHale as his coach and I just don’t know if that’s happened or not this year.”
Jackson also sounded unsure if he’d coach again, leaving himself enough wiggle room to change his mind.
“My stock answer has been I have no intention of coaching again,” Jackson said. “That’s been my stock answer for the last two years. Physically I have to reconcile the fact that I’m in a position where after five operations in three years, four years (coaching would be hard). Recovering from operations is difficult enough. When you’re a kid you can do it relatively easily as we did when we were players, but at my age it takes a little bit more to recover from it and then health becomes the priority.”
“Traveling, late nights, being up and down the court, which is really something that’s important to me as a coach — I coached my last year from a bench at midcourt because I couldn’t get up and down the court and I knew it was time to leave. So, there’s some of the reasons why I sit here and say I have no intention of coaching. But who knows? Maybe I’ll have regenerative tissue that will get me back at it.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org