For years in print, I have been on Phil Jackson’s case about not challenging himself. It’s one thing to coach Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant to 11 NBA titles. It’s another to take a struggling team from the bottom and nurture it all the way to the top.
But, jeez, Phil, I didn’t think you’d go and ponder something crazy like this.
The Knicks, one of the most dysfunctional organizations in the NBA, have offered Jackson a front-office job and are eagerly awaiting his decision. Why he would even think about hitching his wagon to owner James Dolan’s wagon is bewildering, unless he wants to go out in a blazing two-wagon crash. If Jackson thought Jerry Reinsdorf and Jerry Krause were difficult when he was the Bulls coach, let’s see what he thinks after a few months with this meddler.
Dolan undermined Donnie Walsh after hiring the highly respected executive to be the president of basketball operations in 2008. He does not let his managers make decisions and act on them. He does let his managers take the fall, however. Since 2001, Dolan has had seven head coaches and five team presidents. The guy makes Charlie Sheen look grounded.
According to an ESPN report, Jackson would have a big say in the Knicks’ basketball decisions, but “Dolan is still expected to maintain a voice in terms of decision-making.’’ That voice has been known to shatter glass.
Let’s assume Jackson takes the job, even though he has been linked to other jobs in the past and nothing came of them. He’d have to be all in for this experiment to have any chance. People who merely want to dabble in personnel matters don’t tend to fare well in the NBA. When Jordan bought part of the Bobcats in 2006, he became their director of basketball operations but spent a lot of time away from Charlotte. While his skiing and golf game stayed sharp, the basketball team suffered, thanks to his personnel decisions.
If Jackson takes this on, he can’t be running the show from a distance, either geographically or emotionally. New York will chew him up if he does. New York might chew him up anyway.
Being in charge of personnel means watching a lot of tape and a lot of games in person. Jackson has always been more of a jump-on-the-motorcycle guy than a let-me-rewind-and-watch-that-jab-step-again stickler.
What exactly does a Zen Master do to massage the salary cap, and does it involve incense? What in Jackson’s background makes anyone believe he can make a max contract for Carmelo Anthony work for the team? Did I mention the Knicks don’t have a first-round pick this year or in 2016?
Run away, Phil!
Despite the 11 rings he has to his name, Jackson has only one NBA Coach of the Year award, for the 1995-96 season, when the Bulls went 72-10. It was as if voters, hit over the head with that record number of victories, realized they’d look silly if they snubbed him again. But there was a definite message in all those years of snubbing: Jackson’s success was a product of the talent he was given, not the X’s and O’s he handed out.
It’s why I always thought he would have done himself and his legacy a big favor by taking on the challenge of a mediocre franchise as a coach.
Jackson reportedly turned down the Knicks’ coaching job two weeks ago. Whether that was because he didn’t want the physical and emotional stress of it or the damage a bad team would do to his .704 career winning percentage, I don’t know.
Now this. I can think of a lot of other ways I’d want to spend my time if I were 68, but maybe Jackson is bored. He hasn’t been doing much since leaving the Lakers after the 2010-11 season. Despite his varied interests, he appears to be no different than other basketball lifers. The itch needs scratching.
I keep waiting for him to turn down this job, whatever it is. The Knicks sound so wrong for him. The idea of Jackson stringing them along in the hopes of getting the Lakers to add him to their front office — that sounds about right.
In New York, where they think dark thoughts, there are suspicions that Dolan is using Jackson to make it look like he’s serious about turning around the Knicks. But Phil would be the last one to allow himself to be used. He’s smarter than that.
Or is he?