Phil Jackson is leaning toward a front-office job with the New York Knicks, according to a report by ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, whose reporting is based on his sources.
The report said Jackson would be the president of basketball operations and in complete control of all basketball matters. It also said that Jackson is still mulling the offer, though he turned down the head coaching job when it was offered by Knicks general manager Steve Mills last week.
Of course the Knicks aren’t confirming or denying the report. They usually don’t. The media relations policy for management and ownership is a fairly hands off affair.
Perhaps the headline should read that Phil Jackson has gone completely insane and is checking into the asylum at Madison Square Garden where he will be living in a padded room decorated in blue and orange.
Looking at the mess that the Knicks have become, it would be complete lunacy for the 68-year-old Jackson, who won two championships as a player with the Knicks for 10 years and won 11 NBA championships as the coach at Chicago and Los Angeles. When Jackson took over those championship teams in Chicago and Los Angeles they were already built to win championships. The Bulls had Michael Jordan and Scotty Pippen and the Lakers had Kobe and Shaq. That’s a great start on any championship team.
The Knicks have Carmelo Anthony – for now. He has already said he is going to opt for free agency when the season is over. But they have little else in the form of a supporting cast. Maybe Jackson could convince Anthony to re-sign with the Knicks if Jackson joined the front office.
Jackson has a career record of 1,155-485 in 20 seasons with the Bulls and Lakers. He left coaching because of his deteriorating health. The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Brooklyn Nets came calling last offseason and Jackson turned them down.
Jackson has reportedly been working as an unpaid consultant to his friend, Detroit owner Tom Gores, who is sorting through his own Motown mess. Jackson was coy and cryptic (two of his favorite things) about his future when he spoke to USA Today in Boston last week.
"There are winners and losers in the NBA, and a lot of people are trying to reclaim their position or change their culture or whatever," Jackson said. "So yeah, there is (opportunity). I've had conversations. Some of them are feelers. 'Are you interested?' type of thing."
That only opens the floodgate on speculation, which Jackson apparently doesn’t mind. He must be feeling better than he did when he left the Lakers two years ago.
He’ll need every ounce of strength and energy he can muster if he decides to sign on with the Knicks. It would be the challenge of a lifetime if Jackson took a front office job and set about transforming the organization into a winner. Donnie Walsh was the last man who attempted the feat. He got close, streamlining the roster of several blotted contracts and stocking the team with some vibrant young talent. But before he could finish the job, Knicks owner James Dolan jumped the gun and traded away a good portion of that talent, and some valuable draft picks, to get Carmelo Anthony.
While Anthony is a marque talent that can fill the basket and excite the crowd, he can’t single-handedly carry the Knicks to a championship. He needs some of that talent that was sent to Denver to get him.
Meanwhile Walsh has gone to Indiana and helped them develop into a power in the Eastern Conference and a serious contender for the NBA championship this year.
If Jackson does take the job, it will be interesting whether he will be allowed to operate without any interference from Dolan, who has replaced the general manager twice in the four years since Walsh left.
Jackson has never worked in the front office before and who knows what kind of talent evaluator he is. But the Knicks wouldn’t care about that right now. They like splashy headlines and Jackson returning to Madison Square Garden as a savior would fit into that mould. Imagine Jackson, the man who personifies championships, returning to the franchise where he was a part of its glorious past under Coach Red Holzman.
After 40 years the championship legacy that Jackson was a part of has certainly tarnished. Whether he can or wants to help restore the luster is the question. It’s a big job and it requires a tremendous amount of work and energy. Given the circumstances and the team’s current condition it will also require a little bit of lunacy on the part of Jackson to take the job.