Originally created 05/17/03

Changes in store for Lakers



LOS ANGELES - Phil Jackson is feeling good about his own health, as well as the future of the Los Angeles Lakers.

"I think I would have been a little more defeatist at another time," Jackson said after the Lakers' 110-82 loss to the Spurs that ended their three-year run as NBA champions. "I have to feel better about my own personal health and the direction I'm going. We've had a great run."

Jackson's self-described most difficult season as a coach ended Thursday night - five days after he underwent an angioplasty to unblock an artery to his heart.

Jackson is perhaps the most successful coach in NBA history, having won a record 162 postseason games and coached nine championship teams in 13 years. His nine titles tie him with former Boston coach Red Auerbach for the most ever.

The 57-year-old Jackson said he intends to return next year and fulfill the final year of the five-year, $30 million deal he signed with the Lakers in June 1999.

He'll probably be working with several new players.

"I would suggest that next year there will be more changes than in years past," general manager Mitch Kupchak said. "We'll do everything we can to upgrade this team.

"I think we have to address our frontcourt, whether it's a backup center or a power forward."

Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant are two of the NBA's best players, but realistically, few of their teammates this season could make the roster of the deep and talented Sacramento Kings, for example.

"Not for a second do we second-guess what we did," Kupchak said. "We felt comfortable bringing back the group we did. I don't think anybody can argue that we didn't have a chance (to win a fourth straight title)."

Karl Malone and Scottie Pippen, nearing the end of their Hall of Fame careers, are among those who have been mentioned as possible additions, along with Juwan Howard and P.J. Brown.

Kupchak said the Lakers are at least $23 million over the salary cap but plan to use their $4.5 million mid-level exception for a free agent.

There's a good possibility that Robert Horry and Brian Shaw, key members of the supporting cast since Jackson became coach of the Lakers won't return.

"Sometimes losing clarifies your position," Jackson said. "It makes it clear what you need to do. It's not an appropriate time to talk about that right now."

Perhaps not, but Jackson added: "We haven't provided ourselves with the best overall personnel we needed for this basketball club. That bore itself out when we had some injuries.

"We have a nucleus that I'm excited about. I'm excited about replacing players who are going to be moving on. I'm very optimistic and the fans should be very optimistic."

O'Neal and Bryant are under contract for next season, as are Rick Fox, Devean George, Derek Fisher, Slava Medvedenko and Kareem Rush.

Fox tore a tendon in his left foot April 27 in the Lakers' first-round victory over Minnesota and probably won't be available when next season begins.

The 37-year-old Shaw will be a free agent, as will Mark Madsen, Samaki Walker and Tracy Murray.

The Lakers hold a $5.3 million option for the 32-year-old Horry and an option for Jannero Pargo, as well.

A playoff hero on several occasions in his career, Horry struggled this postseason, shooting 30-of-94, including a woeful 2-of-38 from 3-point range in 12 games.

"You might not be talking to me next year," Horry said. "But I would definitely like to come back. I like the system, and I'm too old to try to learn a new system."

Since Jackson became their coach, the Lakers have played 71 playoff games - almost the equivalent of a full season.

It's taken its toll.

"The last three years, we only had 45 days off before we had to get back to work," O'Neal said. "So now the guys who are injured, including myself, can take some extra days to get healthy and in better shape.

"We'll regroup, get some free agents, get some new guys, get some new blood and then hopefully start a new run next year."

O'Neal was second-guessed throughout the season for waiting to undergo surgery on his arthritic right big toe until Sept. 11 - one day short of three months after the Lakers beat New Jersey to complete a sweep of the NBA Finals.

He didn't play his first game until Nov. 24. By that time, the Lakers were 3-9.

They were 11-19 following a loss to Sacramento on Christmas Day, but won 39 of their final 52 games to finish 50-32, fifth in the Western Conference.

Jackson missed three games after having a kidney stone removed in late February. Then came the angioplasty, which he said gave him a new lease on life.

The injury to Fox was a damaging blow, mainly making a bench that was thin to begin with even thinner.

"It seemed like we spent the whole season trying to climb out of a hole," Kupchak said.

The Lakers had won 13 straight playoff series under Jackson, and Jackson-coached teams had won a record 25 in a row before losing in the Western Conference semifinals.

Those streaks are history.

"Nothing lasts forever," O'Neal said.