The New York Knicks may be about to hire a man to head up their front office who is closing in on 70, has roots in Los Angeles and has never held a front-office job.
Ordinarily, this might be the most Knicks move ever under mercurial, meddlesome owner James Dolan, but “ordinarily” hardly fits this situation because the man in question is Phil Jackson, possessor of 11 NBA championship rings as a coach and two as a player — with the Knicks. Jackson, according to ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, is leaning toward becoming the team’s president of basketball operations.
Jackson is expected to tell the Knicks of his decision Monday, the New York Daily News reports, roughly two weeks after turning down an offer to coach the team.
Jackson, 68, most recently coached the Los Angeles Lakers and seemed miffed when he was passed over for the job in the fall of 2012 in spite of his success with the team and his long engagement to Jeanie Buss, who runs the team’s business operations. Of course, there was a considerable amount of drama involving Jackson and the Buss family the last time the Lakers’ job was open. The Zen Master wouldn’t be trying to send a message, would he?
“The Knicks and Phil are getting exactly what they want out of this,” an unnamed general manager told Frank Isola of the Daily News. “The Knicks are showing that they want to do something and this is a chance for Phil to get the Lakers to make a move. If they don’t, he can take the Knicks’ money.”
If, as ESPN reports, Jackson is “ready to go back to work,” a front-office job in which he has full control, a la Pat Riley in Miami, would seem ideal because Jackson quit coaching because of health problems in the spring of 2011. He’s healthy after a couple of surgeries and, as Riley did with the Heat a couple of years ago, he might find that he has one year of coaching left in him — despite turning down the Knicks’ coaching offer. A job like the Knicks’ would give him flexibility, which is very, very Zen.
In any event, his priority would be fixing the Knicks roster and his top task would seem to be persuading Carmelo Anthony to stay with the team rather than become a free agent. Just as Riley has been known to do, he has convincing bling to display.
There are any number of ways this could play out and some of them end badly, like so many Knicks’ seasons under Dolan. The key issue for a guy like Jackson would be control, Mitch Lawrence of the Daily News writes:
Jackson will get a pretty penny for coming back to the franchise that gave him an NBA start as a player for Red Holzman. If he’s been offered the keys to the store, would he put up with Dolan’s constant meddling? The answer is no.
So maybe this entire story goes away next week when Jackson does his due diligence on Dolan and the Garden’s corporate world and finds that the front office is overstaffed with lieutenants who aren’t going anywhere. Then Jackson will tell the Knicks, thanks but no thanks.
That’s the answer we expect, based on a few conversations with people who know Jackson fairly well. They say he’d never agree to come in and try to rebuild the Knicks, if Dolan insists on continuing to think he’s another Jerry West.
“Phil would have to get assurances that Dolan would remove himself, entirely,” said one source. “Dolan gave up a lot of control with Donnie. He would have to give up even more with Phil.”
Donnie Walsh came in with all sorts of promises from Dolan that he would get “full autonomy,” only to find his boss working behind the scenes to bring Anthony to New York a little more than three years ago. Walsh had basically nothing to do with the deal and was horrified when he saw the extent to which Dolan, working in deep secrecy with Isiah Thomas, gutted the team for a limited superstar.