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Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009

Clever, wise Jackson welcomes challenge of upcoming season

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) Phil Jackson is back from his summer vacation in Montana, already thinking about how to minimize distractions around a Los Angeles Lakers team that returns as defending NBA champions for the first time since 2002.

News photo
Center of attention: Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who has won 10 NBA titles during his coaching career, knows the media will pepper him with countless questions all season. The Lakers open training camp on Tuesday. AP PHOTO

He'll have his hands full, with the addition of Ron Artest, the wedding of Lamar Odom, the departure of assistant Kurt Rambis, a crackdown on player use of Twitter, and the ever-present interest in superstar Kobe Bryant.

And oh yeah, Jackson, who turned 64 last week, is heading into the final year of his contract with no talk of an extension.

"When I suggested that setup a situation that would be a lame duck situation, they said that they hoped the duck wasn't lame," the coach said in a recent interview. "We'll see how the season goes."

The Lakers reconvene on Tuesday for the first time since rolling down Figueroa Street during a raucous victory parade in June celebrating their 15th NBA championship and Jackson's record 10th title.

"Hopefully it'll be a camp in which nothing too exciting is done and we get through this thing," Jackson said. "You have a hell month in basketball and this is it."

Since winning the title, they added free-agent Artest, who signed a five-year deal worth about $33 million, switching places with Trevor Ariza, who left Los Angeles to join the Houston Rockets.

"On paper we certainly are a better team," Jackson said, "but sometimes it's chemistry that counts between players and how they work together."

With that in mind, one of his goals is to make Artest's transition as seamless as possible.

"Ron is more of an offensive player than Trevor was," he said. "He'll be more of a focal point, but we hope that doesn't take away from the fact that he's the defensive player that we've wanted over the course of the last couple years to be a stopper, which Trevor was."

Since his signing in July, Artest has been a high-profile presence on the L.A. party circuit and on YouTube and Twitter.

While known for giving his players plenty of leeway to operate, Jackson said, "Ron makes himself high profile in a lot of cases. We'll have to keep his activity level monitored."

Attention on Odom has shot up since the announcement of his wedding, which took place on Sunday, to reality show star Khloe Kardashian.

Jackson said he planned to attend the event he called "a surprising thing." The couple reportedly began dating only recently after meeting at a party thrown by Artest.

He didn't question the timing of Odom getting hitched practically on the eve of training camp.

"Once we step on that court on Tuesday, it becomes 250 days or more of 24-7 basically," he said. "There's not a whole lot of room in your life for timeout or a break here. If you're going to get married, do it before the season starts."

On a serious note, he said he supports Odom, adding, "I want everything in his world to go right for him."

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