LOS ANGELES (AP) — The two-time NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers' most important free agent this summer is a 64-year-old former forward with two bad knees, two artificial hips and more championships than any coach in NBA history.
When Phil Jackson reveals his plans for the future next week, presumably some time after the Lakers' parade down Figueroa Street on Monday, the 16-time champions can get to work on the smaller details of their upcoming run at a three-peat.
Amid the confetti and cacophony of their 83-79 victory over the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the NBA finals on Thursday night, many Lakers took a moment to consider their charmed lives. They all seem to realize they're lucky to come together around Kobe Bryant, whose sublime talent is at the center of their back-to-back titles.
“It's just like I'm living in a different dimension,'' said Pau Gasol, who labored in mediocrity in Memphis until a 2008 trade to Los Angeles led him to three straight NBA finals and two titles.
“If I could get a genie and ask for a wish, this would be my wish, as far as my basketball life and career... It's pretty unbelievable, the contrast from some situations. That's why you've got to be so appreciative of life and the present.''
The Lakers' 16th championship was sweeter for its difficulty.
Bryant called it the toughest playoff stretch of his career, with the Celtics stretching Los Angeles to the limit in a ferocious, defense-dominated series.
And even before he had changed out of his uniform after laboring through a 6-for-24 shooting performance in the finale, Bryant made it clear he wants Jackson to stay for at least another year.
“I've been openly blunt about how much I want him back,'' Bryant said.
While he knows some roster turnover is inevitable, Bryant also believes the Lakers have a core capable of contending for another title, even if some combination of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, and other free agents get together to form that long-anticipated, Justice League-style superteam.
Los Angeles has its own collection of heroes who realize they've got a good thing going at home.
“This is a great team dynamic we have here,'' Bryant said. “We believe in each other, and we trust each other, and Phil is a big part of that.''
After winning his 11th championship in 13 finals appearances during just 19 seasons on an NBA bench with Chicago and the Lakers, Jackson claimed Thursday night he ha “no clue'' whether he would return next year, saying he hadn't invested the time and energy necessary to determine whether he's up for another season.
Yet Jackson has vacillated and equivocated for nine months when asked about his plans for next season. The Lakers are thought to want Jackson to take a cut from the $12 million to $14 million he made this season, depending on various bonuses.
Jackson, who has claimed his pay isn't an issue, said he'll announce his future before Thursday's draft. The cautious assumption in Lakerland is that Jackson won't turn down the chance to hobble toward a fourth three-peat, since that pursuit would be a natural endpoint to his unmatched career.