The Los Angeles Lakers made a shocking decision in spurning Phil Jackson and his attempt to return to the helm of the team at the beginning of the season—a decision that could prove to be a fatal mistake as they hunt for another NBA title.
But Jackson won’t let that stand in the way of his NBA aspirations. In fact, Los Angeles’ decision to opt for Mike D’Antoni may have been a blessing for the Hall of Fame coach, considering the struggles his former team has faced this season.
The door is likely shut on Jackson returning to the City of Angels, but he’s still interested in making a comeback. According to Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein of ESPN, he is intrigued by the idea of assuming another role in the NBA:
After nearly two seasons in retirement, Phil Jackson has become increasingly interested in working in the NBA next season, according to sources familiar with his thinking.
NBA coaching sources say that stance will not dissuade teams with openings from approaching Jackson this offseason to gauge his interest, with the Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers -- who interviewed Jackson in 2005 and are known to be contemplating a coaching change -- potentially at the top of the list.
What has Jackson really intrigued, sources say, is the opportunity to oversee an organization in the patriarchal style of Pat Riley with the Miami Heat or in a role similar to that previously held by Larry Bird with the Indiana Pacers.
While so much of Jackson’s potential return is just speculation at this point, there’s enough evidence to suggest the 67-year-old will find a new home in the NBA if he truly is interested.
Few teams in search of a head coach would refuse to at least entertain the idea of handing Jackson the reins, considering the massive success he had in his time with both Chicago and Los Angeles.
The biggest questions don’t involve on-court talent or wins and losses, rather organizational fit. Not every owner and general manager is willing to hand over control of personnel decisions to a man with no front-office experience.
Those factors may limit Jackson’s options, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the Hall of Famer. According to Shelburne and Stein, he may choose to stay out of the NBA spotlight if he can’t find the right fit.
There’s no need for Jackson to return to a situation in which the circumstances don’t benefit him, but there are certainly some intriguing options that could prove to be the fit he is looking for.
Things haven’t quite gone as expected since LeBron James departed Cleveland. We all knew the Cavs would need time to recover, but two years haven’t yielded a lot of positive developments.
A solid core of young talent has kept Cleveland relevant enough to warrant a closer look, though. Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving have been impressive in their five combined seasons with the Cavs, and the potential for a playoff squad is certainly there.
Byron Scott hasn’t coerced enough from his squad to be successful, however, and according to Shelburne and Stein, Scott may not be in Cleveland next season:
Sources say that Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who already made that previous run at Jackson early in his Cavs tenure, is giving strong consideration to firing coach Byron Scott.
The potential coaching vacancy—paired with general manager Chris Grant’s underwhelming performance—and the presence of a budding superstar in Irving suggests Cleveland could have enough reason to bring Jackson aboard.
Of course, Cleveland probably wouldn’t be Jackson’s first choice considering its futility in recent seasons, but there are enough positive signs to make the Cavs worth considering should he decide to return to the NBA ranks.
There may not be a team more in need of Jackson’s strong leadership than the Brooklyn Nets.
P.J. Carlesimo’s squad has plenty of talent, but the prospects of a deep playoff run this season aren’t exactly the brightest. Should the Nets fail to make a splash in postseason play, Mikhail Prokhorov could opt to go in a new direction for next season.
Prokhorov pursued Jackson to take the helm before giving Carlesimo the job this season, as Shelburne and Stein pointed out in their report:
As for the Nets, ESPN.com reported in December that Jackson was the undisputed top target for owner Mikhail Prokhorov after the dismissal of Avery Johnson. The prospect of interim coach P.J. Carlesimo retaining the job has not been ruled out depending on how Brooklyn fares in the playoffs, according to sources. But coaching insiders continue to say that Prokhorov's well-known desire to make a splashy hire will keep Jackson and ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy at the forefront of his thinking.
Given the apparent interest Prokhorov has in bringing Jackson aboard, the 67-year-old may have enough leverage to earn his say in personnel decisions. At the very least, Jackson would have enough talent on his roster to make the prospects of coaching the Nets an intriguing option.