Fans of the New York Knicks woke up Monday all but certain help had arrived.
By the time evening rolled around, however, there loomed anew the possibility it would all prove just a dream: Phil Jackson, that coaching and cultural cure, wasn’t coming after all.
According to Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, Jackson and the Knicks remain far from completing a deal that would give the legendary NBA coach unparalleled power in New York’s front office:
As I reported in column, still no assurance an agreement will be reached. No one in Jackson's world thinks deal is "close," that's for sure.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) March 11, 2014
This after Frank Isola of the New York Daily News reported Jackson could’ve made his decision as early as Monday:
According to an NBA source familiar with the negotiations, the Knicks expect to have a decision on Monday, approximately two weeks after Jackson turned down an offer to coach the club. The 68-year-old Hall of Fame coach is considering a lucrative deal to join the Knicks’ front office and be placed in charge of the basketball operations.
Needless to say, the prospect of Phil walking away now—after weeks of palace intrigue pointing to a career-circling reunion with the team that drafted him—would be the biggest disaster in a season lousy with them.
Make no mistake about it: Should Jackson bail, it won’t be long before the notoriously blunt "Zen Master" starts dishing the dirt on what prevented him from taking the plunge.
Think a dude with more championship rings than James Dolan has smart ideas will hesitate for a second to throw New York’s jaded jefe under the X10 bus? I’ve got a broken organization to sell you.
In the event that nightmare scenario comes to pass, the Knicks won't just be losing Jackson. They'll be jeopardizing to an unprecedented degree any chance of landing a credible, capable coach—be it for next season or beyond.
Imagine if you're Tom Thibodeau, or Lionel Hollins, or any one of the sterling up-and-coming coaches currently flooding the NBA ranks. If you found out your profession's gilt godfather up and walked away from his beloved team because its owner is certified crazy, would you ever consider taking that same gig?
Of course you wouldn't.
"I don't even know what's going on with that, so it's hard for me to say anything. Nobody came to me about that. Until that time comes, I'm still not going to know what's going on, until somebody brings that to me."
Think it can’t get any weirder? Think again.
On Saturday, Adam Zagoria of The Knicks Blog noted that, for Jackson to even consider taking the position, he’d need to have assurances 'Melo would stick around.
To recap: The guy the Knicks are hoping can save their organization wants assurances the team’s best player will return, even though said team hasn’t so much as talked to said player about said coach.
Cue the Benny Hill theme song.
Getting back to the original Wojnarowski quote for a second, there’s still plenty of time for the two sides to hash out a deal. The question is whether Dolan is willing to give Jackson what he wants, namely full operational control of the team.
Has there ever been a better NBA example of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object?
For all his faults, failures and foibles, Dolan understands the fear and loathing he incites. No one who owns a multibillion dollar cable company can outright ignore the power of and exposure that comes with a storied professional sports franchise in the world's biggest media market.
If his ledgers are any indication, Dolan wants to win a championship. He’s simply spent the better part of two decades entrusting the wrong people to carry out that directive.
He also surely understands—and perhaps even appreciates—the air of clout and confidence Jackson brings to the boardroom table.
If Dolan’s principal justification for hiring and sticking with Isiah Thomas was rooted in the latter being a “basketball man,” surely he’d have some fealty for one of the greatest coaches the game has ever seen—and an iconic Knick to boot.
Jackson, too, understands the brass tacks. He knows that in order to bring his career full circle—to bring an ever-elusive third banner to MSG’s dusty rafters—he’ll need to keep Dolan’s grimy meathooks as far from the car keys as possible.
More than anything else, that’s the dynamic—and the potential impasse—the two parties need to bridge before ink is put to paper.
Even if the deal gets done and Dolan ducks even further into the shadows, there’s no guarantee he won’t emerge somewhere down the line, demanding Phil hand a five-year, $150 million contract to Serge Ibaka.
In the pantheon of Knicks train wrecks, this would merely be par for the course.
But burning a bridge before you even agree on the designs? That, to a fanbase one letdown away from giving up, would be the harshest shortcoming of all—and just about the Knicksiest thing that ever Knicksed.