Update, March 12, 11:15 p.m. ET:
For Knicks fans, the prospect of Jackson bringing his sterling career full circle is enough to drown out the downright dumpster fire that is the 2013-14 season.
That there might be a bit of jealousy on the part of the Los Angeles Lakers—from fans, franchise legends and front-office honchos alike—was pretty much to be expected.
We just didn’t think they’d be so, you know, vocal about it.
Kobe Bryant is the face of the Lakers' team. Who is the face of the Lakers' organization?— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) March 12, 2014
I love Jim & Jeanie Buss, but we need Phil Jackson to be the face of our great organization, the Los Angeles Lakers.— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) March 12, 2014
If you’re squarely in the Phil-to-New-York camp, this is the last thing you want to see: L.A.’s most powerful and influential sports legend making it known where he believes Phil’s true home to be.
What makes Magic’s off-the-cuff comments even funnier: As recently as late January, Johnson promised he was done opining on the Lakers’ in-house business.
Laker Nation: I'm going to stop complaining. I'm going to support and encourage Jim Buss and Coach D'Antoni because I love the Lakers!— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) January 31, 2014
I know what some of you are probably thinking: Magic may well be tossing off on Twitter knowing full well Phil’s ultimate goal is to leverage his way into a better position, either with his long-time employer or with some other organization altogether.
Grantland’s Bill Simmons explored precisely this possibility in his Wednesday mailbag column:
And as he keeps thinking about it, he’s inadvertently talking himself into it. He knows Dolan is a horror show of a boss 90 percent of the time, but he also knows about Dolan’s unwavering loyalty to Isiah Thomas and Donnie Walsh — when you’re in with Dolan, you’re in all the way. So he leverages the Knicks by using the threat of the Nets and Lakers. And Dolan just keeps saying “Yes.” He even gets Bill Bradley to start lobbying Jackson, which resonates with Jackson much more than Dolan realizes.
It seems unlikely that Jackson—who hasn’t exactly gone out of his way to shoot down reports, first put forward by the New York Post’s Marc Berman, that a deal had all but been agreed to—would switch allegiances at the last minute.
Yes, Phil was an integral part of the Lakers organization for over a decade, winning five of his 11 titles as a coach astride sidelines of the purple and gold.
But Jackson’s beef with L.A.’s ownership—particularly Jim Buss—is well documented, as Kevin Ding, then with The Orange County Register, reported back in January 2013:
Well … Jeanie [Buss] and Jim [Buss] aren't speaking to each other.
They haven't since Mike Brown was fired as Lakers coach in early November and the Lakers went through that unseemly, confusing, hurtful dance with Phil Jackson – the love of Jeanie's life and now her fiancé – before hiring Mike D'Antoni.
Yes, the Knicks are a mess. But unlike with the Lakers, Jackson doesn’t have to walk across a badly burned bridge to make good with the brass.
Fixing the Knicks—who drafted him back in 1967, and with whom the Zen Master was part of two title-winning teams in 1970 and ’73—would give Jackson's career a rare kind of full-circle closure.
Going back to the Lakers, on the other hand, risks opening far too many old wounds.