BOSTON – Jim Cleamons rarely speaks about his job status with his two young daughters, but it's becoming harder for him to avoid. The Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach came home from work one day recently, and his 9-year-old, Rosey, was waiting with a question.
"Daddy, what happens to us if Phil doesn't come back?"
"I just had to tell her it's in God's hands," Cleamons said. "… At her age, at her school, they know what I do. I'm quite sure it's a topic of conversation and she may have some anxiety with the mere fact that is unsettling for them."
The uncertain futures of both head coaches in the NBA Finals, the Lakers' Phil Jackson and the Boston Celtics' Doc Rivers, have hung over the series. Both coaches have given the same answer throughout the playoffs: They'll take some time after the season and decide whether they want to return.
Jackson's contract is up at the end of the season, and it's expected the Lakers will ask him to take a pay cut from his $12 million salary. He quashed speculation he might have interest in coaching either the Chicago Bulls or New Jersey Nets before those jobs were filled. And with only two vacancies remaining – the Los Angeles Clippers and Cleveland Cavaliers – Jackson's plans figure to come down to one of two things: He'll either return to the Lakers or retire.
Rivers, 48, is considering leaving the Celtics and returning to Orlando, Fla., so he can spend more time with his children, who are successful high school and college athletes.
"I'm still here," Rivers said. "But the kids are always … I've got to see them play at some point."
Jackson, 64, hasn't told his assistants, who are all on year-to-year contracts, anything definitive about his plans. But all of them expect him to return in hopes of taking the Lakers to a fourth straight Finals.
"My gut feeling is he will be back for another year," Lakers assistant Frank Hamblen said. "He'll go year to year, see how he is, see how he feels. I think he enjoys it. He has a good team. It's the third year of this team going to the Finals. If you get an opportunity to be in the Finals that many times, you want to see if that team can do it again."
Said Cleamons: "If his health allows him to and he's motivated, then he'll be back unless he gets a hell of an opportunity some place else. … Why would you leave this situation unless another challenge presented itself and was more worthy?"
Rivers' top assistant, Tom Thibodeau, has already been named the Bulls' new head coach. The other four coaches on his staff, Armond Hill, Kevin Eastman, Clifford Ray and Mike Longabardi, face uncertain futures if Rivers decides to leave. Among them, only Ray is considering retiring.
"I talk to them," said Rivers, whose assistants aren't allowed to speak to the media. "They know what's going on. It plays a role because I feel responsible for them. I'm sure Phil feels the same. He probably feels responsible for his guys."
Hamblen, who has been coaching in the NBA since 1969, plans to return to the Lakers if Jackson continues coaching. But if Jackson leaves, then Hamblen could retire.
"At our age, you kind of have to see how you feel," Hamblen said. "Phil and I are similar, age-wise. I'm 63, he's 64. It's about how you feel. Are you up to the task?"
One of Jackson's assistants, Kurt Rambis, left last season to become the Minnesota Timberwolves' head coach. Brian Shaw figures to eventually get his opportunity, too. He has interviewed for four head-coaching jobs while serving on Jackson's staff and has most recently been mentioned as a possible candidate for the Cavaliers.
In the meantime, all Shaw – and the rest of the Lakers' assistants can do – is wait for Jackson to make up his mind. Just like the Celtics will wait for Rivers to decide his future. Every time a new story appears linking Jackson to a new job or questioning his future, the Lakers assistants tease their boss. Jackson always laughs it off.
"My gut feeling is he will probably stick around for at least another year," Shaw said. "But only he knows that."
- Phil Jackson
- Doc Rivers
- the Lakers