A curious thing has happened in recent weeks, though. At least a half-dozen Lakers, both players and officials, believe that the Zen Master is now more likely to return (if a deal can be worked out) than he was at midseason, even in the event that Kobe re-signs. "It came back around to Phil being appreciated as a great coach," said one Laker. "The problems we've had here fall on the players, not on Phil, because he's proven himself too many times." Says Frank Hamblen, a longtime Jackson assistant, "What I've seen is Phil's energy level returning over the last few weeks."
Indeed, the notion that Jackson wants to retreat to his cabin in Montana and eat berries is too glib. He likes the action, he likes the buzz. Yes, his creaky hips cause him pain; Doug Collins, under whom Jackson was an assistant in Chicago, has urged him to have hip-replacement surgery, as Collins did, and Jackson says he's considering it. But he's recovered nicely from the angioplasty he had last year, and he generally feels healthy and strong. If he's not coaching the Lakers next season, he says he won't be coaching anywhere—"That only goes for next season," he emphasizes—and he sets the chances of his returning, just to be contrary, at 49 to 51. We put it higher.
PROBABILITY THAT JACKSON STAYS: 60%
As the series continued this week—it was assured of returning to San Antonio for Game 5 on Thursday—Jackson was sending his unpredictable crew of warriors into battle against a formidable opponent led by two-time MVP Tim Duncan. He has always been a man undaunted by the Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times," so he's certainly in the right place to live. At least for the moment.
Probability of figuring out the purple-and-gold: 1%.