Will Phil Jackson be able to ‘Jerry-rig’ the Knicks?

Written By BY RICK TELANDER Sports Columnist Posted: 03/19/2014, 10:18am
Array Chicago Bulls' coach Phil Jackson, right, and general manager Jerry Krause watch the play from above as the Bulls practice in Deerfield, Ill., May 1, 1995. (AP Photo/Mike Fisher)

Big Chief Triangle is back.

Former Bulls and Lakers coach Phil Jackson, the man with 11 championship rings as a coach and one more as a player for the Knicks (two, if you count the 1969-70 title season when Jackson was out with a back injury), has returned from the wilderness to become the president of the Knicks.

You could say Jackson is doing it for the love of the game, but the five-year deal for a rumored $12 million per year is a nice inducement. Even for a Zen dude.

Don’t forget Jackson doesn’t mind the spotlight. New York? The Big Apple? This isn’t Denver or Oklahoma City, folks. Beatnik Phil, Madison Square Garden Phil, is back. Why, it might be no time at all before he makes a fan of Spike Lee.

Yet there is also something nearly mystical about Jackson’s return to his sacred hoops. The media in New York nearly went gaga with expectation after Knicks owner James Dolan made the announcement, for example. What other non-player in basketball could have evoked such a reaction?

Jackson will turn 69 before next season, and he’s pretty well beaten up from his sports career, starting with that back ailment so many years ago. He can’t sit or stand for long periods of time, so traveling with the Knicks and being a hands-on, locker-room presence seems out of the question. So, too, we must assume, is coaching.

This is a big transition for Phil — from career game architect to the front office. But such it is.

I remember the 1990s, when Jackson would lock the locker-room door after Bulls games, so meddling general manager Jerry Krause couldn’t get in.

Whomever Phil names as the Knicks’ coach next season (Mike Woodson certainly won’t be back) will be a man who will let Jackson go in and out as he pleases. But the irony is, despite the huge freedom Dolan says he is giving Jackson, there might not be a whole lot Phil can do quickly to improve a soul-free, sub-.500 team with so many expensive contracts and no first-round draft pick in June.

Plus, what can Jackson do to convince super-scorer Carmelo Anthony to stay with the Knicks? Will Anthony think that even a trickle-down vestige of Tex Winter’s triangle offense benefits him? Or will he run, screaming, to a team that will let him gun at will? We don’t know.

Jackson might find that Krause, as nosy, humorless and annoying as he was to have around, did stuff with free agency and the draft that had a magic all to itself.

Jackson and Krause haven’t been friends for a long time. They only shook hands at stroke-impaired Winter’s Hall of Fame induction in 2011, Krause said, ‘‘for Tex.’’ But it wasn’t startling to hear Jackson at his news conference Tuesday offer an olive branch and some warm words to Krause. It might have dawned on Jackson that he soon will be judged less by those 11 coaching rings of yore and more by the impatient New Yorkers’ attitude of, ‘‘What have you done for us lately, pal?’’

‘‘His attitude toward doing this job that I’m charged with doing is the map for me going forward,’’ Jackson said of Krause. ‘‘He was very thorough, very comfortable and very committed to finding out information about players that would help create teams that could win.’’

Well, yes, Krause did do that. Having a fellow named Michael Jordan helped. And Jackson was aided mightily in Los Angeles by having Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal on his teams.

The knock on Jackson always has been, ‘‘Bet you can’t do it without superstars!’’ In a way, Jackson is stepping into a job much like the one Theo Epstein stepped into with the Cubs. What you did elsewhere doesn’t matter one iota in the new place.

There are no ‘‘accidental championships’’ in the NBA, Jackson said when describing how the Knicks will have a system, a plan. One even wonders whether this means fiancée Jeanie Buss of the Lakers and Phil are now frenemies — or worse. And what of Mavericks owner Mark Cuban saying his ‘‘bucket boy’’ is back? Not much reverence there.

And here in Chicago, I guess we can say the Jordan-Jackson-Dennis Rodman era is nailed shut. None of those folks lives here.

Maybe Krause is our new hero. A Hall of Famer-to-be.

It’s for sure we don’t care one toot about anything that goes on in New York.

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