EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — The Zen Master is done coaching the Los Angeles Lakers and his two biggest stars could be leaving, too.
Phil Jackson, one of the most successful coaches in NBA history, won’t return as coach of the Lakers, the team said Friday.
Meanwhile, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant took steps that could have them playing elsewhere next season.
A team source told the AP on condition of anonymity that O’Neal had requested a trade. And as expected, Bryant became an unrestricted free agent, opting out of his contract.
Jackson, who won three straight championships with the team, agreed with Lakers owner Jerry Buss to end his tenure as coach.
Buss offered Jackson another position with the organization, which Jackson will decide whether to accept soon, the team said in a statement.
“The experience of the past five years has been great,” Jackson said. “Three rings and a fourth opportunity makes this a bittersweet ending, but it’s time to pause and reflect. I’m appreciative of all the Lakers, the organization, the fans and Dr. Buss.”
Jackson’s departure was expected even before he met with Buss following the coach’s participation in season-ending interviews with several players earlier in the day.
Jackson joined the Lakers in June 1999, and coached them to their first championship in 12 years in his first season. Two more titles followed, giving Jackson nine to tie him with former Boston coach Red Auerbach for the most in NBA history.
Among names mentioned already as possible successors are former Houston Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich, former Seattle SuperSonics and Milwaukee Bucks coach George Karl, and current Southern California coach Henry Bibby.
There could be several more changes to follow.
General manager Mitch Kupchak made clear the team’s priorities Thursday when he said the Lakers would do anything they need to keep Bryant and would try to accommodate O’Neal if he demands a trade.
Apparently upset over Kupchak’s remarks, O’Neal canceled his exit interview and later requested a trade. O’Neal, who has been one of Jackson’s biggest supporters, is under contract for two more years but could opt out after next season.
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