Phil Jackson, who coached the Los Angeles Lakers to three world champions in five seasons, was rehired Tuesday by Lakers owner Jerry Buss, just a year after pushing Jackson into retirement.
After days of rumors of an imminent agreement, Jackson signed a three-year deal reportedly worth as much as $10 million per season, which would make him the highest paid coach of any sport in history.
He replaces interim coach Frank Hamblen, who led the Lakers to a 10-29 record last year in the wake of Rudy Tomjanovich's resignation due to health reasons. Overall, the Lakers went 34-48, failing to make the playoffs for the first time in 11 years after reaching the NBA Finals though losing to the Detroit Pistons in Jackson's last year.
"This is something that I never thought could possibly happen," said Jackson, during a press conference at the Staples Center. "I can't think of anything that is more intriguing that was offered to me."
But Jackson also warned Lakers fans not to expect the team to return to its championship days soon. Lowering expectations, Jackson said he would be surprised if the Lakers are serious contenders by the time his contract runs out.
"It's not about a 10th championship," Jackson said, of his record-tying nine previous coaching titles with the Lakers and the Chicago Bulls. "It's about coming back here and re-establishing a team that's competitive. We don't think things happen overnight. We expect some patience."
He now takes over a team without star center Shaquille O'Neal, who was traded to the Miami Heat last summer for players Jackson criticized earlier this year as being under-performers. The team's lone superstar is guard Kobe Bryant, who Jackson criticized as being selfish and uncoachable in his recent book, "The Last Season: A Team in Search of its Soul."
At the press, however, Jackson downplayed the book, adding that Bryant called him earlier Tuesday morning to congratulate him on his return. "It's a matter of trust and rebuilding the trust that we have," he said.
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