Phil Jackson won 11 NBA championships as the coach of the Chicago Bulls and L.A. Lakers. That would suffice for nearly any man on Earth, but it seems that the Zen Master is feeling the itch to make an NBA comeback.
This time around, he doesn't figure to be clutching a clipboard on the sidelines; he may very well be wrangling the roster from the president's office.
Controlling the basketball operations for a franchise would allow Jackson to craft his lineup and select his choice of head coach. With his savvy and credentials, the team could become an immediate powerhouse as a desired landing spot for top-tier free agents.
So what's the path to success for zen philosophy in the front office? First, we must examine Pat Riley's blueprint for success in Miami, and then postulate Jackson's version of that. Finally, we will consider his requirements for choosing a team and what some possible landing spots might be.
The Riley Plan
During the 2005-06 season, Pat Riley, in his capacity as president of the Miami Heat, fired Stan Van Gundy and appointed himself head coach.
With current Heat players Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem complemented by Shaquille O'Neal, Antoine Walker, Jason Williams, Gary Payton and Alonzo Mourning, Miami won the title over the Dallas Mavericks in six games.
But those Heat were a decaying team. The Chicago Bulls swept them out of the first round in 2007, and Miami posted a dreadful 15-67 record the next season.
Something had to be done. And Riley had an ace up his sleeve.
He installed his protege, Erik Spoelstra, as head coach for the 2008-09 season. He let Spo cut his chops with a pair of winning seasons that ended in first-round exits.
And all it took to lure LeBron, the crown jewel on the free-agent market, was a bag full of championship rings. Of course, Phil would need a much larger bag for all of his rings.
With those three All-Stars plus Haslem and Mario Chalmers, the makeup of the dynasty was set. Though Dallas upended them in the finals that year (mainly because Tyson Chandler annihilated Joel Anthony), Riley had clearly built Miami back into a perennial powerhouse.
From there, all it took was the addition of Shane Battier and an embrace of so-called small ball, and Miami seized another title in 2012.
Of course, nothing lasts for long in today's NBA. Each of the Big Three has an early-termination option for 2014 in his contract, and you can be sure that Riley is maneuvering for that offseason already.
The Jackson Plan
Phil Jackson would want not only the right fit with the right team (as in, not the Cleveland Cavaliers, regardless of how electric Kyrie Irving is), but he would need the right players as well. It's no accident that all of his titles came with either Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant on the team.
That's the reason Phil should want to be in the front office instead of coaching on the sidelines. Aside from being 67 years old, being president allows for a team to be constructed and coached with a unified philosophy.
That doesn't necessarily mean his team will have to run the triangle offense, but each man on the roster would have a complementary skill set for the team's style of play.
This year, the star-crossed Lakers hired Mike D'Antoni despite lacking the speed and roster to properly run his offense. Were Jackson to become president of operations with some team, he would be able to refine his lineup over one or two seasons and gear up for a title run by making a splash in free agency.
Lately, having at least two All-Stars has been a requirement for winning the NBA Finals. Aside from the 2004 Detroit Pistons, every championship winner boasted some form of a Big Three, or at least a Big Two plus a very talented third star.
The 2008 Boston Celtics kicked off the Big Three trend, but that had already delivered three titles for the San Antonio Spurs with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Even the 2010 Mavs had Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Tyson Chandler, plus Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion.
Jackson would not leave the comfort of his home to become an executive unless he had the flexibility to assemble at least two of the league's top dozen players.
Zen Master as Consultant
Early this season, due to the hubris of Jim Buss, the Zen Master was snubbed in the middle of the night for the Lakers' coaching gig. That was probably in Jackson's best interest, as it turned out.
But that brief flirtation seems to have awakened Phil's interest in returning to basketball.
Jackson has agreed to act as a consultant for the Detroit Pistons in their search to replace ousted coach Lawrence Frank. His role will be strictly limited to that capacity, so don't look for him to replace Joe Dumars as the Pistons president of basketball operations.
According to Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press, "Platinum Equity spokesman Mark Barnhill told the Detroit Free Press that the agreement is short-term and the result of Pistons owner Tom Gores' friendship with Jackson." Gores' investment firm, Platinum Equity, is technically the owner of the team.
Nevertheless, the coaching search should help Jackson get a barometer of front office situations around the league. And Detroit is not the only job with Jackson on the radar.
The Brooklyn Nets axed interim coach P.J. Carlesimo after losing their first-round series to the No. 5-seeded Chicago Bulls, despite leading the team to a 35-19 record following Avery Johnson's termination. But losing Game 7 at home was apparently an unacceptable result.
Carlesimo appeared on The Dan Patrick Show and responded to reports that the Nets would pursue the Zen Master for the vacancy: "I think (general manager Billy King) is serious about starting with Phil Jackson, who is arguably the best coach in the history of our league, and anybody else out there that's a good fit" (via The SportsXchange on Yahoo! Sports).
But Carlesimo sounded doubtful about Phil accepting the job offer, saying:
My gut tells me no. Obviously he's always been linked to this job...but it seems that's not on his wish list anymore. From what I'm reading and hearing all the time, he wants a Pat Riley-type situation, a team where he can do that (be in the front office), that obviously would not be the case in Brooklyn.
With King more or less cemented in the position, Jackson would have to go elsewhere to find a front office position. But there are probably a slew of teams who would clean house for the opportunity to snag Phil Jackson.
With the Nets and Pistons effectively out of the running, where might be a good fit for Phil?
Jackson likely has several requirements for any potential president position: good weather, nice city, existing young superstar and his choice of a coach.
According to Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com, the Toronto Raptors have pursued Jackson to become their president of operations. The only problem being that Toronto is in Canada and the average low temperature in January and February is just 12 degrees (per The Weather Channel).
Sources told them that the Raps felt the group attempting to move the Sacramento Kings to Seattle had been the leading candidates to tab Jackson as president, but that deal now appears to have fallen through. And Phil won't be accepting any calls from the Maloofs.
Ultimately, Jackson seems as unlikely to go to Toronto as he did to Cleveland.
Since he does live in Los Angeles, the L.A. Clippers would be a fun destination, where he could really ramp up his latent rivalry with Jim Buss. He would also have Chris Paul, the most talented point guard since Magic Johnson. But 25-year veteran exec Andy Roeser is unlikely to be going anywhere soon.
Flip Saunders recently became the president of the Minnesota Timberwolves, so that's another job off the table. With all the uncertainty surrounding the Boston Celtics, who knows if Danny Ainge will be there next season? So far, however, all signs point to yes for the C's prez.
The chief obstacle for Jackson's job selection is the dearth of job openings. A franchise would also have to commit to spending money and adopting a win-now mentality, which is not necessarily a priority for every NBA team.
For example, the Phoenix Suns are looking for a general manager, but they are not a team anywhere close to contention, and therefore a poor fit for Phil.
The procession of suitors for Jackson's services will be a point of interest all during the offseason, but it's too early to tell what might be on his mind and in his heart.
Jackson will require a mix of talented youth and elite All-Stars (or at least the cap room to acquire them) to woo him out of retirement. Any team would be tremendously lucky to land him in the front office, but 11 championships provide the luxury of waiting for the right opportunity.