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Phil Jackson returns to Lakers

By Nigel Hunt
June 15, 2005 11:26 IST
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Phil Jackson was re-appointed head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday, returning to the storied franchise he led to three championships a year after resigning.

"This is something I never thought could possibly happen, to be standing here within less than one year of having been part of the dissolution of this organization and the changing of the guard," Jackson told a news conference.

The 59-year-old coach stepped down shortly after the team's shock defeat to the Detroit Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals. A few weeks later All-Star Center Shaquille O'Neal was traded to the Miami Heat as the team sought to rebuild around Kobe Bryant.

The Lakers struggled under Jackson's replacement Rudy Tomjanovich, who resigned in February citing ill health and stress, and subsequently under long-time Jackson assistant Frank Hamblen.

The team failed to make the play-offs this year, compiling an unimpressive 34-48 record, only the fifth time in the Lakers 58-year history they had missed out on post-season play.

Jackson characterized Bryant as "a callous gun for hire" and the epitome of a new generation of selfish player in a book which chronicled his final season in charge of the team.

In returning, he took a softer stance. "It is a story of reconciliation, redemption," Jackson said.


Bryant issued a short statement on Tuesday backing the decision made by general manager Mitch Kupchak and owner Jerry Buss to bring back Jackson.

"In Phil Jackson, they chose a proven winner. That is something I support," he said.

Jackson said his partner, Jeannie Buss, daughter of owner Jerry, had played a key role in his return.

"I think Jeannie was probably the person who was the most supportive of this and saw the possibilities of this happening, even after I was away from the ballclub," he said.

Owner Jerry Buss said Jackson's success in the sport, which also includes six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls, is "unparalleled," describing him as the "probably the greatest coach of all time."

"We feel that he is the best person to lead this team and hope that he will be able to lead us back to the point of being a championship-caliber team," Buss said in a statement.

Jackson, dubbed the "Zen Master" for his interest in Eastern philosophy and unorthodox methods for handling players, signed a three-year deal.

Terms were not disclosed but there have been reports he was seeking about $10 million a year.

Jackson, who did not coach during the 2004-2005 season, sought to downplay expectations for next season.

"It is not about a tenth championship. It is about coming back here and rebuilding a team which is competitive," he told reporters, saying it would be "a real challenge" to make the playoffs given the strength of the NBA's Western Conference.


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