Lakers loss has Jackson in retiring mind _ for now

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Phil Jackson looks a little more worn these days, more than the last time he tried retirement, unretired and won a few more NBA championship rings.

He wearied of the season’s grind long ago, to say nothing of the mental wear and tear that comes with a coaching style based as much on pyschoanalysis as Xs and Os. It’s been a good run, he said Sunday, but now it’s time for the next generation of coaches to leave their imprint on the game.

So sometime soon, maybe as early as this week, he’ll retreat to the peace and quiet of Montana.

Don’t be surprised if it’s short term.

Jackson was able to harness the talents of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal because he was as relentless and driven as his stars. Going out with a loss will eventually gnaw at him _ if it hasn’t already. He loved the intellectual challenge of coaching as much as the game itself, and will quickly find that coming up with ways to outsmart fish isn’t nearly as satisfying.

Jackson isn’t Jerry Sloan, whose first hint of retirement came with the announcement he was actually doing it. He has talked about calling it quits so often _ and so publicly _ the last few years that his decision is practically part of the NBA calendar. That’s a sign of a man conflicted, not one who’s eager to walk away.

Even Sunday, after watching the Los Angeles Lakers self-destruct in one of the worst blowouts of his playoff career, Jackson didn’t close the door completely.

“Yes. This is,” he said when asked if this was it.

Then he stopped.

“In all my hopes and aspirations,” he said, “this is the final game that I’ll coach.”

Jackson had similar intentions in 1998 and 2004, and look what happened. He managed to stay away for all of one season each time.

He traveled the world after walking away from the Chicago Bulls following their second three-peat. He wrote a book, goofed around and took in a few tennis tournaments after a three-peat with Shaq and Kobe. But the further away he got from the game, the more enticing it became.

Even last summer, as much as he wanted to leave, he found he simply couldn’t.

“I came back this last year with some trepidation. Kobe’s knee was an issue and obviously our team was older. (But) the thrill of trying to chase a three-peat is always an exciting thing,” he said Sunday, the joy in his voice plain.

There’s no doubt Jackson is tired.

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