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Jackson keeping outlook realistic

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Championships have always been the goal for Phil Jackson's teams. Now that he's back with a different Los Angeles Lakers team, it's a matter of simply making the playoffs.

Jackson did his best Wednesday to lower expectations, defining postseason qualification as the goal for a young, rebuilt team coming off a horrible season.

Back as coach of the Lakers following a year off and an unlikely series of events that preceded his return, Jackson talked publicly about a team that barely resembles the one he left after the 2004 NBA Finals.

"I have my hopes as to how we can grow as a basketball club," Jackson said. "It's like baking a cake — you have to put it all together and see how things work out.

"We definitely want to make the playoffs — that's a goal for us. We won't know how far we can go in the playoffs for a long time. To make the playoffs is a goal we think we can accomplish. This is going to be a process. You're not going to see a finished product for a while."

Jackson touched on several other topics, saying he felt good physically, anticipates having a good working relationship with Kobe Bryant and believes newcomer Kwame Brown could be a difference-maker. On the subject of a rumored trade for Latrell Sprewell, Jackson said: "I don't think that's going to happen."

About the possibility of the Lakers having a losing season or not making the playoffs, Jackson smiled and said: "As my mother would say, perish the thought."

The Lakers leave Monday for training camp in Honolulu, where they'll spend 10 days.

Jackson said Scottie Pippen will serve as a tutor for Lamar Odom during training camp, and Jackson hopes Odom will fill a similar role for the Lakers as Pippen did for the Chicago Bulls' championship teams of the 1990s.

"He's still not 100 percent," Jackson said of Odom, who underwent surgery April 19 to repair a torn labrum in his left shooting shoulder. "He will be established in this organization as a prominent player. I'm going to ask him to step into that level as a responsible player on the floor."

With Shaquille O'Neal and Bryant leading the way, nothing less than a championship was the goal during Jackson's previous five years in Los Angeles. The Lakers won three straight from 2000-02. The Lakers were eliminated in the Western Conference semifinals in 2003, and Jackson left following their loss to Detroit in the 2004 NBA Finals. O'Neal was traded to Miami shortly thereafter.

That left Bryant with a mediocre supporting cast and a new coach, and the results were disastrous.

Coach Rudy Tomjanovich left barely a half-season into a five-year contract, citing health concerns, and the Lakers lost 19 of their last 21 games en route to a 34-48 record — one of their worst seasons ever.

Over the summer, Jackson signed a three-year contract worth an estimated $30 million to make him the highest-paid coach in NBA history.

"We've made a lot of changes. Our roster is not set in stone," Jackson said. "It's a very young team, our average age is 25. It's going to try the patience of its coach."

It all starts, of course, with the 27-year-old Bryant, criticized by Jackson in a book that came out last fall detailing the 2003-04 season.

Jackson said the two have seen each other about a dozen times since he was hired as coach in June, but have had only one meeting.

"Very much so," Jackson replied when asked if Bryant seemed comfortable and accepting. "Things have gone well. We're going to have a relationship. We'll get done what we need this year. He's been real dedicated this summer. He'll be a captain, I don't know who will be a co-captain with him."

When asked how he'd describe Bryant, Jackson said: "Determined, dedicated, disciplined. I think he's ready to play. For Kobe, it's about re-establishing his dominance in the game."

After three seasons of being chosen a first-team All-NBA player, Bryant dropped to third-team last season.

"To me, right there, enough said — Kobe Bryant (third team), not acceptable," Jackson said.

Jackson said he felt no discomfort in his dealings with Bryant.

"The only thing I will feel on eggshells about is questioning from you guys, the media," he said, adding he wouldn't be answering questions about his relationship with Bryant for very long.

The Lakers played last season with a minimal inside presence on both ends of the court. To address that problem, they acquired the 6-foot-11 Brown from Washington for Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins.

The 23-year-old Brown, first overall pick in the 2001 NBA draft, was a disappointment in his four seasons with the Wizards.

"I did tell him he could be the difference if we're going to be a good team or a very good team," Jackson said. "Both he and Chris Mihm have to team together to be a force inside."