Could Phil Jackson Be the Detroit Pistons' Next General Manager?

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistMarch 3, 2014

Apr 2, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA;   Phil Jackson looks on as the jersey of Los Angeles Lakers former player Shaquille O'Neal (not pictured) is retired during a half time ceremony during the game against the Dallas Mavericks at the Staples Center.  Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

Phil Jackson's next NBA jaunt could come at the expense of Detroit Pistons general manager Joe Dumars.

After investing close to $80 million in Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings over the summer, Detroit appears headed for another lottery finish. Recent transgressions have already cost head coach Mo Cheeks his job, and Dumars could be next.

Excuse me, Dumars should be next.

That brings us to Jackson, who made some curious remarks to USA Today's Sam Amick while speaking about opportunities he may pursue moving forward:

There are a few (opportunities), but I shouldn't name them. It wouldn't be right to talk about it, name anything. But yeah, there are some. There are winners and losers in the NBA, and a lot of people are trying to reclaim their position or change their culture or whatever. So yeah, there is. I've had conversations. Some of them are feelers. "Are you interested?" type of thing. I did go out to Detroit last year and sit with (Pistons President) Joe (Dumars). I guess we weren't successful, but I really encouraged (Pistons owner) Tom Gores that the general manager has to be able to pick his coach so they can win it together. And Joe wanted Maurice, so it didn't work out, unfortunately for Maurice. I developed a relationship with the owner, who lives in LA. We have conversations.

Conversations about Jackson assuming control of the sidelines? Pistons owner Tom Gores wishes.

Jackson has made it clear on multiple occasions he has no intention of coaching again. If he were to come out of retirement, one has to believe it wouldn't be to coach Detroit's floor-spacing nightmare.

But if he were offered the opportunity to control the team from above, as acting general manager with the power to undo expensive mistakes Dumars spent the Pistons into? Well, then, sign him up.

For a brief moment, when it looked like the Seattle Supersonics were on their way back to existence, Jackson was in play to become the face of their front office. Managing teams from afar, so to speak, is something he has an interest in.

The relationship he has with Gores is also more official than he describes. Jackson advised the Pistons on their coaching search this past summer, in what now may be a precursor to something bigger.

"I'm just like an adviser, an unpaid adviser," he told Amick. "So far, my advice hasn't been too great."

Indeed, the Pistons are toeing lines of disaster, suggesting that Jackson hasn't found success as an unofficial consultant. But note how quick he was to distance himself from the Cheeks debacle, placing the onus upon Dumars, who has now cycled through nearly 10 head coaches during his topsy-turvy reign.

Emphasizing to Gores the importance of general managers choosing their own coaches feels like a subtle sales pitch as well. It could even be Jackson's way of underhandedly reminding Gores that Dumars has done little to reverse Detroit's current misfortunes.

Matters are further complicated by Gores' decision to let assistant coach John Loyers remain in power the rest of this season. If he trusted Dumars to make the next hire, wouldn't he, you know, allow him to make the next hire?

Furtive answers aside, the Pistons appear to be in the market for a new general manager no matter what. The New York Daily News' Mitch Lawrence alleged that Detroit was showing interest in Isiah Thomas as its next general manager, a report that was almost immediately shot down.

"He is not a candidate for any job with the Pistons," Mark Barnhill, a spokesperson for Gores wrote in an email to MLive's David Mayo.

The legitimacy of Lawrence's report can be debated to no end, but the Pistons have grounds to hold a general search. Their payroll stands just shy of $62 million, and at 23-36, they're one of the NBA's most disappointing teams.

Gores himself has reiterated he expects more from his product.

"Our record does not reflect our talent and we simply need a change,” Gores said in a statement after firing Cheeks, per The Detroit News' Terry Foster. "We have not made the progress that we should have over the first half of the season. This is a young team and we knew there would be growing pains, but we can be patient only as long as there is progress."

Dumars hasn't been delivering for Gores.
Dumars hasn't been delivering for Gores.Duane Burleson/Associated Press

Barring a complete turnaround in the season's final 23 games, the progress Gores is expecting to see will remain a figment of his overly ambitious expectations. And with Greg Monroe set to explore restricted free agency this summer, Smith and Jennings on the books for a few more years and Andre Drummond at a crucial point in his early development, he's not in a position to remain patient.

The current model in Detroit, from top to bottom, isn't working. Change is coming whether or not the Pistons secure a playoff spot. A new head coach will be hired and the roster presumably retooled. 

Dumars' track record at this point also speaks for itself. Previous Eastern Conference Finals appearances and a 2004 NBA championship cannot be erased, but his failure over the last half-decade or so cannot be ignored. This season has especially been one worthy of him joining the unemployment ranks.

If and when Gores decides to show Dumars the door, you can bet Jackson will be interested. He went out of his way to tell Amick he likes their "chances as they go forward," which is more than many others will cop to. 

Disparaging Detroit should come so easy to Jackson if he wasn't playing a different angle. He's had no qualms about taking jabs at the Los Angeles Lakers, telling Amick that "Jesus could probably coach this team pretty well, but outside of him maybe, Mohammed, maybe Gandhi, someone like that." But here he is singing the praises of Detroit's future, singling out Drummond in particular.

Jan 9, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; NBA coach Phil Jackson (left) and actor John Lithgow watch the game between the UCLA Bruins and the Arizona Wildcats at Pauley Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

To be sure, Jackson wasn't coaxed in this direction. Detroit is a situation he willingly discussed. Gores is an owner he effectively name-dropped. Jackson may be above lobbying for currently filled positions via the media, but his poker face could use some work.

This has to mean something. Jackson's relationship with Gores and summer ties to Detroit aren't empty or casual. They have to mean something.

Given all we know, any ventured guesses remain just that—speculation. But the groundwork for a strong foundation is being laid.  

While inexperienced, Jackson gives the Pistons an appearance of stability and seriousness. The 11-time NBA champion demands respect, and his transition into the front office has always felt inevitable. 

More importantly, the Pistons are tracking toward reformation. Surviving into next season almost isn't an option for Dumars. Chances of him spearheading necessary change are slimmer than slim.

Jackson, conversely, is going to get an opportunity somewhere. His time is going to come. Some team, some owner is going to give him a chance. 

And if Dumars is rightfully ousted following a season of squandered potential and expectations gone askew, that owner could be Gores.

That team could be the Pistons.


Salary information via ShamSports.