What in the world is Phil Jackson thinking?
According to ESPN’s Chris Broussard, Jackson is leaning towards accepting a job offer from the New York Knicks. His title remains unclear, but Broussard says he would be more than an adviser or head coach. I am dumbfounded.
Why would a basketball genius, a zen master, like Phil Jackson choose to work for the most dysfunctional franchise in the NBA?
The fiasco that is the Knicks this season has been well documented. As sports fans at Fordham know, YES is not available on campus, meaning Knicks basketball is often the only option. And on most nights, no basketball is better than Knicks basketball.
Things are a mess over at Madison Square Garden. J.R. Smith is a distraction. Raymond Felton bares little to no resemblance to a point guard. Andrea Bargnani, who the Knicks traded three draft picks for, is out indefinitely. And Mike Woodson can’t coach anything other than the hair that makes up his pleasantly manicured goatee.
Additionally, Carmelo Anthony can become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season by opting out of his contract. While he’d leave about $30 million on the table if he signed elsewhere, it is hard to imagine him wanting to stay.
However, the Knicks’ biggest problem isn’t Smith, Melo or Woodson. It’s their owner, James Dolan.
Dolan is the one who demanded the team trade for Carmelo in the first place. In that trade, the Knicks surrendered their 2014 draft pick, giving them no picks in what is widely considered the best draft since 2003. That trade, combined with the Bargnani one and the indefensible decision to amnesty Chauncey Billups instead of Amare Stoudemire, has left the Knicks without a path. There is little hope for the present, and absolutely nothing better coming on the horizon.
Why does Jackson want to join in? Why does he want to work for Dolan?
Jackson’s greatness is beyond questioning. He has won 11 championships. He got Shaq and Kobe to play together. He made Michael Jordan accept the roles of his teammates and trust them. He’s already cemented his legacy as one of, if not the single, greatest coaches in NBA history.
Maybe its because he’s never been part of a team that wasn’t already great. His Bulls teams had the greatest player of all time. His early Lakers teams had an unstoppable duo. He won his last title after the Lakers were given Pau Gasol with gift-wrap and everything.
Rebuilding the Knicks would be an incredible accomplishment. If Jackson, who spent most of his playing career with the Knicks, could somehow turn this franchise around and bring a championship to New York, he would become the biggest figure in Knicks history.
As great as it would be, there isn’t any visible way Jackson can do that. The Knicks are capped out and will be for some time. They have no draft picks. Their trade assets, Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr., aren’t all that interesting.
The Knicks are stuck and even Jackson cannot move them.
But, perhaps Jackson wants the job because he is drawn to the chance to become more than a coach and run the front office. He’d have an incredible amount of control over the team, and wouldn’t have to submit to the daily grind of being a head coach.
If that were really Jackson’s idea, I would be even more confused. Does he really think Dolan, one of the most hands-on owners in the league, will allow Jackson to have a sweeping authority? Dolan is the same owner who took control from both Donnie Walsh and Glen Grunwald and then later forced them out.
No matter Jackson’s motivation, I cannot envision this playing out well. He was successful because he was able to get the most out of his players. He could reach and motivate them in really powerful ways. Can he really do the same thing from the General Manager’s office?
The most likely ending is a bitter breakup between Jackson and Dolan. Dolan has proven time and time again that he cannot handle sitting on the sidelines. What happens when he breaks his promise to give Jackson authority and steps in to get his way?
Even worse, what happens if Jackson fails? What happens when he takes the job and Anthony signs elsewhere? Will Dolan really give him time to play the salary dumping game? What if they lose and all the prized upcoming free agents (Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Kevin Durant) choose to avoid New York? How unceremoniously would Dolan fire Jackson then? How long until Jackson is no longer a hero in New York?
Jackson doesn’t deserve that. He shouldn’t sink to the Knicks’ dysfunctional level.
What is Phil Jackson thinking?
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