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Jeanie Buss Denies Jackson Rumors
Thursday, April 14
When asked about rumors Jackson could return to the Lakers, co-owner and team president Jeanie Buss said, "Don't listen to that. ... Phil is in New York. He signed a five-year deal," according to TMZ Sports.
A little nosing around NBA circles adds some important elements of subtext.
One is that Jackson badly wants out of New York, preferring to return back to Los Angeles to be near his fiancee, Lakers scion Jeanie Buss. Jackson is believed to have an out in his Knicks deal that could free him up to do just that at the end of next season unless things between him and Dolan become untenable before that.
It’s believed that as soon as Jeanie’s brother Jim Buss — blamed for the Lakers current free fall — is somehow removed from the scene, Jackson will be back as soon as he can engineer it.
Jackson signed a five-year contract with the Knicks in March 2014, and the team has just 49 wins over the past two seasons.
ESPN's Stephen A. Smith commented on Jackson's situation with the Knicks earlier in the week, and he did not hold back, per Mike & Mike:
An added twist in the story is that Toronto Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri could be drawing interest from the Knicks.
The New York Daily News' Frank Isola (h/t Grange) wrote that Ujiri is the "apple" of Knicks owner James Dolan's eye.
The Raptors have set a franchise record for wins over the past three seasons, and according to Grange, Ujiri is the most sought-after Raptors employee in the NBA:
Would Ujiri want to leave Toronto for New York? It’s hard to imagine him craving a job like that on its face. The Knicks haven['t] been proven the place careers and reputations got to die not-so-slow deaths. Jackson went to New York as an icon with 11 rings and now he’s looked upon as a guy time has passed by who can’t hire a coach.
And Ujiri’s commitment to Toronto is sincere and unwavering. He’s not quite the ambassador his pal Drake is, but he’s just as sincere about what the city is and what it can be.
However, the right price could bring Ujiri to New York. He has a $15 million deal with Toronto, but Grange noted the Knicks could make him "wildly rich."
On the surface, this looks like it could work out. Jackson would likely love to jump at the chance to help resurrect the once-proud Lakers, who now have the Western Conference's worst record.
And if Ujiri, who might win his second Executive of the Year award, could turn around the Knicks in the country's largest market, he would be the undisputed top league executive.
However, both he and Jackson still have two years left on their contracts, and a lot has to happen for all the pieces to fall into place.
Grange noted the Knicks' interest in Ujiri is "preliminary, tested by back-channel intermediaries," which means there is no guarantee they would look to bring him aboard. In addition, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Raptors, can deny any inquiring team wishing to talk with Ujiri, per Grange.
Jackson does not like to lose, and the Knicks are out of the playoffs for the third straight year. Winning doesn't seem to be around the corner, so it wouldn't be surprising to see Jackson bolt for a different challenge.