Timing of Phil Jackson Story Says All You Need to Know About New York Knicks

Jim CavanContributor IMarch 8, 2014

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

Like any good propagandists, the New York Knicks understand the power and potency of a good visual—in this case, Phil Jackson riding into Madison Square Garden high and mighty astride a white steed to redeem his former team.

On Saturday, ESPN broke word that the legendary NBA coach was strongly considering accepting a position in the Knicks front office:

While a decision has not been made, Phil Jackson is leaning toward taking a front-office job with the New York Knicks, a source close to the team tells ESPN's Stephen A. Smith.

Jackson's role would be president of basketball operations, in complete control of all basketball-related matters, according to the source.

Whether grounded in fact or fancy, the timing of the leak couldn't have been more transparent in intent: With their team struggling to fight its way back into the playoff picture, James Dolan and the Knicks front office need something on which to sell their no doubt jaded fanbase.

More immediately, hiring Jackson would serve as New York's biggest, boldest move yet in trying to convince Carmelo Anthony to eschew the free-agent market and finish his career in orange and blue—and more importantly, to convince others to join him.

Then again, it might well be the case that the Knicks, petrified over how fans might react to Melo chasing championship glory elsewhere, are merely looking for the next big name on which to tether their fortunes. From Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News:

When you take that question into account, it makes sense for the Knicks to hire Jackson and let him blow this team up and put it on course for its next phase: The post-Melo Era. Jackson has the er . . . onions, and he knows basketball, even if he's never been in charge of a team. We're guessing Jackson would come back to New York for the right price. He loves it here.

All of which invites the two-part question: Will Jackson wait to see what Melo does before making his decision? Would he prefer the challenge of building around Anthony or rebuilding without him?

If we're to read anything into Jackson's past comments, stated during a 2012 interview with HBO's Real Sports, the prospect of coaching a team built around a pair of duplicative, eminently flawed talents hasn't exactly had him champing at the bit (via ESPN):

They don't fit together well. (Amare) Stoudemire doesn't fit well with Carmelo (Anthony). Stoudemire's a really good player. But he's gotta play in a certain system and a way. Carmelo has to be a better passer. And the ball can't stop every time it hits his hands. They need to have someone come in that can kinda blend that group together.

To be sure, a lot can change in two years, especially with someone as notoriously blunt and off-the-cuff as PJax.

According to ESPN's Dave McMenamin, however, one former disciple isn't sure how effective Jackson would be at attracting top-flight talent:

On the other hand, Pau Gasol is fairly certain Jackson would be looking for more than just an ancillary front-office gig:

For his part, Melo has made clear during an interview over All-Star Weekend that, should the Knicks redouble their efforts to bolster the roster—presumably up to and including changes made to the front-office hierarchy—he'd be more than happy to take a financial haircut, according to ESPN.com:

Without a doubt. Any opportunity I have to build that up in New York, I'd do it. I told people all the time, always say, "If it takes me taking a pay cut, I'll be the first one on [Knicks owner] Mr. [James] Dolan's steps saying take my money and let's build something strong over here."

But there's also a more literary aspect to a potential Jackson return. This is, after all, one of the few holdovers from New York's lone championship teams—a cult hero in New York's precious pantheon of basketball gods.

Moreover, it was Red Holzman, the coach of those halcyon teams, who first instilled in Jackson the desire to enter the coaching profession, a career change that ended up netting the latter an NBA-record 11 championship rings over 20 seasons.

For a guy who wrote a book called Sacred Hoops, Jackson must see the idea of capping off an unrivaled NBA career by running the very team that reared him as an appealing one indeed.

Associated Press

Whether it's enough to trump the challenges of working for one of the most notoriously ironfisted owners in professional sports is, at this point, anyone's guess.

If Dolan is willing to hand Jackson full managerial control—and not simply a position in title only—Jackson could see it as a fitting final act to a career defined by challenges met and mountains conquered.

Then again, it's just as likely Jackson's swan song ends up being another in a long line of face-saving Hail Marys designed to distract from Dolan's seemingly ceaseless despotism.