The NBA's best coaching mind isn't even in the NBA right now.
Phil Jackson—and his cachet of 11 glistening championship rings—boasts a track record unrivaled by peers past and present.
Although he hasn't graced an NBA sideline since 2011, word is the Zen Master is more than open to the idea of a re-entry into the basketball world. In fact, a source told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne that Jackson is "ready to go back to work."
The rest of the real world knows this isn't the case. Even Jackson couldn't mask the horrific stench wafting through the Empire State skies.
The Dreams of a Desperate Franchise
The Knicks have long been pursuing Jackson like a big-game hunter closing in on a prize buck.
First came rumors of a four-year, $50 million offer to coach the team in 2012, via Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times. ESPN's Stephen A. Smith recently stoked those flames by reporting that Knicks president and general manager Steve Mills had approached Jackson about the possibility of taking over the coaching reins in the Big Apple.
While Jackson reportedly expressed no interest in the coaching job, Frank Isola of the New York Daily News said the offer has now shifted over to "a front-office position," which Jackson is expected to accept or decline "sometime next week."
So many questions come out of this development, all of them starting with the same word—why?
Why would Jackson willingly throw himself into the center of the league's worst tire fire? Why would he risk staining his legendary career by exposing himself to the chaos in which delusional Knicks owner James Dolan operates? Why are the Knicks, in need of surgical repair, still searching for a quick-fix bandage?
But there's another, far more important one-word question to ask—how?
How does Jackson clean up the biggest mess in an historically weak Eastern Conference? It's simple. He doesn't.
Jackson understands, perhaps better than anyone in the sports world, how to maximize the talents of those around him.
Whether those are the top-tier gifts of transcendent players like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal or the keen coaching minds of assistants like triangle-offense architect Tex Winter, Jackson gets the most out of what he has available to him.
When he has premier pieces, he produces premier results. He ranks No. 5 in career regular-season victories (1,155), No. 1 in regular-season winning percentage (.704), first in postseason wins (229) and first in championships (11), via Basketball-Reference.com. His 20 seasons at the helm (nine with the Chicago Bulls, 11 with the Los Angeles Lakers) yielded 20 playoff trips.
New York offers none of the tools Jackson would need for the job.
What would he inherit in New York?
A group of players Jackson himself described as "clumsy" during a 2012 interview on HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, via Michael O'Keeffe of the New York Daily News.
"They don’t fit together well," he told HBO's Andrea Kremer. "(Amar'e) Stoudemire doesn’t fit well with Carmelo (Anthony)."
While Jackson was talking about Anthony and Stoudemire's on-court fit, the players are an even worse pairing on the financial books.
Stoudemire, who's averaging 20.4 minutes a night, is set to make $23.4 million next season, per ShamSports.com. Anthony has the option—and desire—to opt out of his current deal at season's end with his sights presumably set on a maximum contract.
To make matters worse, Stoudemire is only one of three underperfoming Knicks due an eight-figure salary for 2014-15. Tyson Chandler, the rare (unprecedented?) former Defensive Player of the Year turned defensive sieve, is slated for $14.6 million. Andrea Bargnani, a stretch big who doesn't stretch the floor or play big, is on the hook for $11.5 million.
There are no building blocks now and none working their way through the system.
The Knicks don't have a first-round pick in 2014 or 2016. Their first-round selection in 2013, Tim Hardaway Jr., is tied for the seventh-fewest defensive win shares in the league (500-minute minimum), via Basketball-Reference.com. Iman Shumpert, a 2011 first-rounder, has spent the past two seasons on the trade block.
If the roster was clumsy before, it's simply incompetent now. The Eastern Conference is atrocious, yet the Knicks find themselves 4.5 games out of the playoff picture with three teams to leapfrog and five-plus weeks to make that move.
Jackson's sideline prowess can't solve New York's personnel problems.
Bringing Jackson back to this franchise—he played 10 seasons for the Knicks in the 1960s and 1970s—would do nothing more than buy this franchise some front-page real estate. Of course, in Dolan's world, that might make this a home run hire.
As Bleacher Report's Joe Flynn noted, "star power and name recognition matter infinitely more than results" in Dolan's mind.
They would have to for this short-sighted chase to make any semblance of sense. It's not as if Jackson has a front-office history to sell to the Knicks.
Searching for Nonexistent Evidence
On name power alone, Jackson carries enough weight to distort reality.
Not only does his resume lack for a front-office history, the limited returns available do nothing to support his chance for success.
Of course, Phil was last seen advising Pistons ownership to hire Mo Cheeks and that experiment ended after 50 games.— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) March 7, 2014
While Jackson has tried to downplay his involvement in the hire—he told USA Today's Sam Amick he simply "encouraged (Pistons owner) Tom Gores that the general manager has to be able to pick his coach"—he's either not telling the entire story, or he's just not good at giving advice. Either way, his name is still attached to that horrendous decision.
During an appearance at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference last month, Jackson admitted that Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman was the last player on a list of seven power forwards his Bulls considered in 1995.
Despite having the greatest scoring guard in history (Jordan) and a Swiss Army knife (Pippen) powering his offense, Jackson didn't see Rodman's rugged rebounding and tenacious defense as a clear-cut choice for his roster.
"That was the best we could do," Jackson said, via Sean Highkin of USA Today.
The Bulls, of course, settled on Rodman and promptly captured the next three titles.
What does any of this mean for his future as a front-office figure? Perhaps nothing. But neither does his legendary coaching record.
If Jackson was a five-star chef, would it make sense to back up a Brink's truck in front of his house and have him oversee a farm? Of course not. The jobs might fall under the same umbrella, but the responsibilities are drastically different.
Should the Knicks keep chasing Phil Jackson?
The two jobs are related, but they're far from the same.
The Knicks are a disaster and will be for a while. They need an architect to form a vision, a construction manager capable of following that blueprint and building it from the ground up.
Jackson has never handled those roles. He's more of an interior designer, taking an almost-finished product and adding the right touches to take it over the top.
He manages personalities as well as anyone in the business. The Knicks need someone with that skill set worse than any other team.
But would Dolan really allow Jackson to have that type of ultimate influence? With the owner's fingerprints running rampant over this sad circus, would he even give Jackson the cloth needed to wipe them up?
Jackson needs to carry the biggest stick in this franchise, then couple that influence with the type of number-crunching roster-assembly skills he's never displayed before.
The Knicks need bodies—plenty of them—to rid the damage done by the constant meddling of Dolan and his disciples. Stockpiling assets is a strength that eludes Jackson's otherwise legendary resume.