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Reports: Phil Jackson close to return as Lakers coach

Are Kobe Bryant, left, and Phil Jackson getting closer to another reunion? (Glenn James/Getty Images)

By Ben Golliver

The great ones have a hard time staying away.

NBA legend Phil Jackson is reportedly close to rejoining the Los Angeles Lakers as coach, one day after the team fired Mike Brown following a 1-4 start to the 2012-13 season.

Multiple reports indicated Saturday that Jackson is in good health and is the Lakers' top candidate -- perhaps the only candidate who has been contacted -- and that at least two former assistants could join him in Los Angeles.

Jackson, inducted into the Hall of Fame as a coach in 2007, holds a career record of 1155-485 (.704) in twenty seasons coaching the Bulls and Lakers. He has won 11 titles as a coach.

During a press conference Friday, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said the team would consider Jackson, according to the New York Times.

Acknowledging the team’s interest in Jackson, General Manager Mitch Kupchak said, “I think you’d be negligent not to be aware that he’s out there.”

Jackson announced his retirement following the Lakers' loss in the 2011 playoffs to the Mavericks, who went on to win the title. At the time, Jackson said he would not return to the bench, according to ESPNLA.com.

"In all my hopes and aspirations, this is the final game that I'll coach," he said. "It's been a wonderful run."

The Lakers defeated the Warriors on Friday night 101-77 under interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff. After the game, guard Kobe Bryant and center Dwight Howard voiced support for Jackson, according to the Los Angeles Times, and Bryant specifically noted regrets about the loss to the Mavericks in 2011.

"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," Kobe Bryant said Friday night. "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."

"I think it would be great," Howard told The Times. "He's a guy I could learn a lot from. But until he comes, we have to put all of our faith into Bernie" Bickerstaff, the Lakers' interim coach.

If hired, this would mark Jackson's third stint with the Lakers. He previously stepped away for the 2004-2005 season, only to return to guide the Lakers to titles in 2009 and 2010. The Los Angeles Times reported in 2011 that Jackson made as much as $12 million in one season while coaching the Lakers.

On Saturday, reports indicated that the Lakers were focused on Jackson only and that no other candidates, including former New York Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni, had been contacted.

CBSSports.com reported that Jackson was the "leading candidate" and that he is motivated to make an NBA return. Jackson last coached during the 2010-11 season.

Phil Jackson has emerged as the clear leading candidate to be the Lakers' next coach, and two people connected to the 11-time champion coach told CBSSports.com on Saturday that all indications point to Jackson wanting the job. "Phil wants it," one of the people with ties to Jackson said.

CSNBayArea also characterized Jackson's interest in the job as "strong."

There is a scenario in which former Lakers coach Phil Jackson would consider returning for a third stint with the team, sources said late Friday, but it will require executive VP Jim Buss once again relinquishing the organizational reins – and this time handing them to Jackson, rather than back to GM Mitch Kupchak.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the Lakers and Jackson met on Saturday, placing the odds of his return at "95 percent," but that no job offer was extended.

The unknown 5% in their equation is the chance Jackson doesn't want to fill the vacancy created by the Friday firing of Mike Brown, either because of health reasons or other unknown issues.

ESPN.com reported that Jackson, 67, is in good health.

Source close to Phil: "I can't imagine this not working out. Phil's health is fine now. That's no issue at all. ... Phil's feisty. He gets feisty when he's ready to coach. He likes this Lakers team."

Meanwhile, USA Today Sports reported that D'Antoni, considered another leading candidate, had not been contacted by the Lakers.

"They're focused on getting a deal done with (Jackson)," said the person, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

Jackson had said that he planned to spent his retirement in Montana. ESPNDallas.com reported in 2011 that Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle was one of many voices who believed Jackson would pursue a comeback to the NBA.

"My belief is that he’ll retire for a while," Carlisle said, "but I don’t know how long you can go to Montana and meditate and smoke peyote or whatever he does there. I don’t know. He’s going to get bored. And I mean that in an endearing way."
His girlfriend, Jeanie Buss, is a Lakers executive and daughter of Lakers owner Jerry Buss.

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