It took about a New York minute for a report to surface that New York Knicks owner James Dolan was meddling in the business affairs of Phil Jackson, breaking a promise he’d made when he hired Jackson as president of basketball operations.
Frank Isola of the New York Daily News broke the story, writing that Jackson and Dolan have “already clashed” over personnel decisions, with Dolan balking at some of the staff changes Jackson still wants to make. Last week, Jackson fired coach Mike Woodson and the coaching staff.
According to the source, Dolan’s reaction to Jackson’s request was to tell the 11-time NBA championship coach to simply focus his attention on building a winning team. To say that “minor friction,” as one Garden source called it, can be classified as Jackson’s honeymoon with Dolan being over may be stretching it a bit.
But at the very least it proves that Dolan — surprise, surprise — wasn’t being entirely truthful last month when he claimed he was “willingly and gratefully” giving up control of the basketball decisions to Jackson, the Hall of Fame coach.
Into that little quagmire stepped the beringed one and he deftly deflected the report Tuesday. Dolan, he said, has “been loyal to that promise” not to meddle. “He’s been very true to his word to this point.” Only one person, it seems, is weighing in and that’s Jackson’s fiancee, Jeanie Buss, who is part owner and president of the Los Angeles Lakers. She wants Jackson to step in and coach the team.
“Well, Jeanie Buss was here with the [NBA] Board of Governors last week and stayed through the weekend, and tried to encourage me to coach the team,” he said, referring to the Lakers’ boss to whom he is betrothed. “If there’s anyone who can encourage me to do anything, it’s Jeanie Buss. But I was able to withstand her arguments the whole time.”
So, it won’t be Jackson. It might be Steve Kerr, he hinted as he admitted they’d spoken. “He wanted to talk about styles of coaching, purely basketball, a philosophical discussion,” Jackson said. “And we meet [in a] very similar space about coaching in a lot of ways. I know philosophically, we have a strong connection. Whether he’s able to take a job like this, I don’t know. I’ll get in the conversation with him later on this month and talk to him about it, and see where he’s at as far as his desire to coach, and come out in this direction.”
Jackson’s ideal choice, from his description, is the man who is committed to the same thing he is: the triangle offense.
“We’re looking for a leader. Someone who can bring out the best in players, someone who has the capability of encouraging the staff to meet the needs that players have,” he said. “That philosophically joins in. They buy into what we’re doing.”