A family reunion in L.A.

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:06 AM ET

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- So what's next, Lenny Wilkens coming back to coach the Raptors?

Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston getting back together?

Big Chief Triangle replenishing the mighty buffalo?

Hey, those notions are no more goofy at present than the notion of Phil Jackson going back to coach the Los Angeles Lakers was 11 months ago.

But what a difference a year makes. And who knows, maybe this is going to work out better than many pundits think.

Phil Jackson, a.k.a. Big Chief Triangle and the man who torched Lakers star player Kobe Bryant both verbally and in a book last year, is the new/old coach of the Lakers.

Shaquille O'Neal is gone now, so this sets up a two-man reunion featuring Jackson and Bryant that both sides claim they're okay with, at least for public consumption.

"This is something I never thought could possibly happen," Jackson, who will turn 60 in September, admitted yesterday.

Bryant released a statement, saying, "In Phil Jackson, (the Lakers) chose a proven winner. That is something I support."

Is what we learned in kindergarten really true, that sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can never hurt you?

Has the petulant and selfish Bryant actually been humbled after the Lakers didn't make the playoffs this season? Or privately is he irked by all this?

It was in the NBA final last June that the Lakers disintegrated before our eyes in an ugly five-game loss to the Detroit Pistons. O'Neal and Jackson departed, and subsequently neither of them were shy about taking shots at Bryant.

Jackson bluntly stated the main reason he wanted out was that he didn't feel he could reach Bryant anymore. Jackson said he had to go if the Lakers wanted to keep Bryant. Jackson said Bryant had shown up at training camp as a different person in each of the five years they were together, and Jackson had grown weary of trying to keep up with Kobe's changes.

Bridges weren't just burned, they were blown up.

But while the Lakers aren't going to be anywhere near championship form right away, this might not be a disaster. Why? Because Shaq isn't there anymore.

That is not to suggest Shaq was the main problem before. But to Dr. Jerry Buss, owning the Lakers in recent seasons has been like being an animal lover.

If you have two cats in the house, usually -- the odd hissing match notwithstanding -- they will find a way to divide up the territory and co-exist. They might not be pals, but often they come to a grudging agreement.

Add a third cat to the mix and sometimes all hell breaks loose. As the territorial battle intensifies, it is not uncommon to have two cats band together against the third cat.

Jackson, Bryant and Shaq were like three cats sharing the same litter box. They tolerated each other long enough to win three championships in a row, but inevitably, Jackson and Shaq shared the belief that Bryant was a big problem and endeavoured to drive him out.

But Buss made a business decision, bowed to the wishes of Lakers fans (who, generally speaking, always preferred Kobe to Shaq) and sided with Bryant. Jackson was not offered a new contract. Shaq asked for a trade and was granted his wish when he was dealt to the Miami Heat. Kobe re-signed with the Lakers as a free agent.

But now, unbelievably, Phil is back, too, toting a lucrative, three-year contract.

He certainly doesn't need the money. And while this will reunite him with his L.A.- based girlfriend, Buss' daughter, Jeanie, this modern world does include such things as airplanes, telephones, e-mails and candy-grams, so they could have kept the relationship alive regardless, if they're really in love.

So maybe Jackson just misses basketball and, for various reasons, he felt the Lakers were his best option.

If Jackson really wants to coach and Bryant really wants to play, we won't be so quick to predict a catastrophe.

And by the way, the Wilkens press conference is tomorrow at the Air Canada Centre.


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