Current NBA Finals odds

One internet bookmaker currently has the Finals at a pick ’em, largely because the Lakers’ home court advantage offsets the Celtics’ 3-2 lead. Here are a few stats to chew on heading into Game 6:

– Phil Jackson’s 47-0 series mark after winning Game 1 is in serious jeopardy.

– Teams trailing 3-2 in the Finals have won just six times in 40 tries. However, since the league has gone to a 2-3-2 format, the team down 2-3 has only had home court advantage six times and have gone 2-4 in those series.

– The Celtics are 11-0 in the franchise history when leading 3-2 in the Finals.

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Jackson not willing to take big pay cut?

I wrote earlier today about Jackson’s willingness to field questions about his future in the middle of the Western Conference Finals, and now CBSSports is reporting that a person close to Jackson believes that the coach would be unwilling to take a major pay cut to stay with the Lakers.

While Jackson reiterated his hunch Tuesday that there’s a 90 percent chance he’ll either be coaching the Lakers next season or retiring, a person with close ties to Jackson told that it’s too early to set odds. If Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss insists on a massive pay cut, the person said, Jackson would not return. Published reports have indicated that Buss is seeking to pay Jackson $5 million next season, a pay cut of $7 million.

The source close to Jackson indicated that the question of how much Jackson’s pay would be reduced is, to some degree, semantics. Given that he is close to retirement age, a significant portion of Jackson’s salary could be deferred in the form of retirement benefits that he would see without penalty in two years.

Another person with knowledge of Jackson’s situation said it would be difficult to imagine him leaving the Lakers with Kobe Bryant in the prime of his career and having just signed a three-year extension. The person equated it to overtures that frequently came Jackson’s way when he coached Michael Jordan in Chicago, saying Jackson never would’ve left Jordan in his prime, either.

But one of those sources said circumstances could change with the possibility of Jackson becoming bait to lure LeBron James to the Bulls, who have maximum salary-cap space to sign him and a quality roster that Jackson views favorably. The person said the Jackson/LeBron situation was plausible, considering Jackson would have the chance to complete a potentially irresistible trifecta – coaching Jordan and Bryant, and then capping his career with James.

The bit about the “irresistible trifecta” is interesting. Jackson has been fortunate in that he has been in a position to coach some of the league’s greatest players, but if he were able to join forces with LeBron and win his 11th (or 12th) NBA title, it would certainly cap what has already been a remarkable career. Yes, he has been fortunate in the quality of player that he has coached, but it takes more than great players to win championships, and Jackson’s ability to manage massive egos and get 12 players pointed in the same direction is, for lack of a better word, uncanny.

He’s not going to grind out 50+ wins with an inferior roster like Jerry Sloan does year in and year out, but if Jackson has the most talented roster, he’s a good bet to be the last coach standing at the end of the postseason.

And that’s probably worth $12 million a season.

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Phil Jackson not interested in coaching the Bulls

Before last night’s Game 4, Phil Jackson shot down the rumors about a possible return to Chicago.

“I have no, at all, desire to go back to Chicago and coach the Bulls,” Jackson said, responding to an report from Monday night that the Bulls had reached out to Jackson through back channels to gauge his interest in a return.

Jackson went on to say that the “probabilities are great” that he’d be coaching the Lakers next season, though the franchise has made it clear that they expect him to take a pay cut.

The timing of this is curious. The Lakers are still in the playoffs, and Jackson is fielding questions about his 2010-11 salary and a possible job change. Sometimes he gets caught up in using the media to tweak his players or tweaking the media just for fun, but there’s a possibility that this is becoming a distraction to a Laker team that came to Phoenix looking invincible and is leaving the Valley of the Sun knotted in a 2-2 series and licking its proverbial wounds.

With the media in a tizzy trying to predict the landing spot for LeBron James and several other big-name free agents, these questions are going to come up over and over again. Sometimes the best way to answer is just to say “no comment.”

Ron Artest vs. Phil Jackson


Late Thursday night, Artest’s account posted a string of tweets expressing frustration with Lakers coach Phil Jackson.

The first unedited tweet, posted around 9 p.m. PT, read: “Finally Phil Jackson didn’t mention me in media before talking me Now I can build on game 2. Hopefully he talks to me before the media.”

The next unedited tweet, posted approximately an hour later, read: “Ever since phil mention things about me in media before coming to me first I was weird . So every pray he can somehow close his yapper.”

Artest’s brother claimed that the account was hacked, but when a reporter paraphrased the tweets and asked Artest about it, he said:

“No, no, you have to read it exactly. That’s exactly what I said? If you can’t get it exact, then I can’t answer it.”

“I’m here to talk about basketball, basketball, all basketball,” Artest said. “Twitter is for my fans, not for [media].”

For his part, Jackson says that he spoke directly to Artest about the issue at hand — his terrible three-point shooting.

“So, you know, we expect him to break out of it at some point, but he’s got to be discriminative in what’s a good shot and what isn’t.”

Jackson, who described Artest as a “naïve, innocent lamb” during the first-round series against Oklahoma City said, “I guess he might be a little sensitive,” on Friday.

“I usually tell the truth,” Jackson said of his thought process behind commenting about his players to the media. “I usually don’t pull punches, so, I mean, a person has to withstand that. If they’re hearing it on TV in front of a massive audience, they must understand that their coach saying it to them will be probably a little bit more harmful, a little more hurtful perhaps. They have to be tough enough to take that and move on.”

Jackson tweaks, he doesn’t tweet. He relishes needling everyone — players, coaches, officials — through the media, though I doubt he’s ever run into someone like Ron Artest. The Zen Master should tread carefully.

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Why was Vinny Del Negro fired?

Vinny Del Negro has been fired as coach of the Chicago Bulls.

The decision to fire Del Negro came after organizational meetings last week and over the weekend. Del Negro met with Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf on Sunday and made a pitch to return for a third season, citing the accomplishments during his two seasons.

But, in the end, Reinsdorf took the recommendation of Forman and executive vice president John Paxson and decided to make a change.

But Del Negro did lead the Bulls to two playoff appearances. With the likely addition of a big-name free agent this summer, the franchise seems poised to become a serious contender in the East. Why exactly was he fired?

The major reason was the growing rift between him and management, which gained national attention when news broke of a postgame confrontation between Del Negro and Paxson in late March.

”That was a toxic situation,” TNT analyst Charles Barkley said Monday night. ”Vinny’s a good guy; Paxson’s a good guy. I said two weeks ago they had to fire him.”

Is Del Negro a good coach? It’s tough to say. He’s 82-82 in two seasons with two playoff appearances, but one could argue that the talent in Chicago is better than that. He was unable to develop Tyrus Thomas and John Salmons flourished in Milwaukee after he was moved at the trade deadline.

By removing Del Negro now, the franchise may be able to use the opening as a selling point to potential free agents. Would LeBron James or Dwyane Wade sign with the Bulls if Phil Jackson agreed to return to Chicago? How about Doug Collins or Avery Johnson?

Though the Bulls do expect to have the position filled by the start of free agency, I fully expect that they’d put feelers out to see how their top free agent targets feel about their top coaching targets. They’d be fools not to.

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