Phil Jackson Enjoying His Knicks Reunion so Much, He's Planning Long-Term Stay

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterDecember 15, 2016

(L-R) New York Knicks President Phil Jackson, General Manager Steven Mills Coach Jeff Hornacek speak with the media at Madison Square Garden training center on July 8, 2016 in Tarrytown, New York. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith        (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
BRYAN R. SMITH/Getty Images

PHOENIX — He truly enjoys living in New York.

He truly is committed to the Knicks.

So midway through his five-year contract as Knicks president, Phil Jackson isn't expected to go anywhere.

As much as Jackson's late-in-life return to his original franchise has been questioned from every angle, he has found a level of comfort with his new job and environs.

Jackson fully intends to finish the two years after this season on his Knicks contract, according to NBA sources. Despite all the attention on his opt-out clause in 2017, he might even want to do a new deal that starts in 2019.

Jackson's competitive fire is fully aflame now that the Knicks are on the upswing—they are 14-11 and have won 11 of their past 16 games entering Thursday night against the Golden State Warriors—but it's more than just feeling better about his work.

Jackson has settled into life away from Los Angeles and fiancee Jeanie Buss, exploring the varied non-basketball interests to which New York caters. Jackson is connecting over lively card games or stimulating dinner conversations with friends who knew him before he was famous, feeling the energy of the city.

He's saddened that LeBron James and others are upset about Jackson's "posse" remark, particularly the racial interpretations. But if you think he's going to give up his space in the public forum out of fear or embarrassment or old age, you don't know how he operates.

Jackson is used to saying things, whether on or over the edge, that spark conversation or controversy for others. In this particular case, a 71-year-old man who is from and still spends every summer in Montana—where there is, literally, a Flathead County Sheriff's Posse to maintain community order—had no intention to offend James or his friends. Jackson and many others now know there are differing cultural implications of the word.

Nor was there any intention to irk Carmelo Anthony about holding the ball too much. But that's the sort of public frankness in which Jackson doesn't mind dabbling, and why he is so well-suited to take the heat that once fell on Knicks owner James Dolan.

Jackson offered a glimpse into his approach with me some years ago as we discussed his penchant for poking people publicly:

Me: "Are you a needler?"

Jackson, smiling: "Yes."

CHARLOTTE, NC - FEBRUARY 14:  Head coach Phil Jackson talks to Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers during their game against the Charlotte Bobcats at Time Warner Cable Arena on February 14, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expre
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It's a habit that prompted Anthony to laugh Saturday in Los Angeles as he acknowledged just how many conversations he has had with Jackson's former star, Kobe Bryant, about having to deal with things Jackson has said. Both Bryant and Jackson have learned it can be healthy within a team to have that awkward or uncomfortable creative tension in the air rather than a pat rule never to go to bed angry.

When you spend so much time with the same people, it can be productive to have some stuff arise to test the bonds and gauge the investment. It's healthy to make both parties re-evaluate and reaffirm that they care, as opposed to safely acting as if everything is solid all the time.

This is why a team is so often compared to a family.

The Knicks have had more than enough tumult in recent timeswithout the success to feel OK about it. Jackson's goal isn't just to collect enough talent to help Kristaps Porzingis and Anthony; it's also to apply the deeper team-building wisdom that made Jackson's coaching career legendary.

That's difficult when Jackson is an outsider now, and he knows it. He remembers how Jerry West felt back in the 2000 playoffs about Jackson the coach asking West the executive to leave the Lakers locker room for an intimate team meeting.

This season, rather than try to have Derek Fisher recapture old Lakers chemistry with the Knicks, Jackson has a calm, competent coach in Jeff Hornacek and is putting $72 million worth of trust in Joakim Noah to build an original vibe.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 17:  Derrick Rose #25 of the New York Knicks talks with head coach Jeff Hornacek against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on November 17, 2016 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that,
Rob Carr/Getty Images

This is a Noah who, after missing much of the preseason with a hamstring injury, is so far from his 2013-14 first-team All-NBA level of play (averaging 4.4 points and 7.8 rebounds in 22 minutes per night) that it has been scary to watch and scarier to consider he'll be 35 when his deal ends in 2020.

But this is also a Noah whose voice was bouncing off the walls in the victorious visiting locker room at Staples Center on Sunday night. The booming and festive responses—all beginning with "Jo!" before they went this way or that—came right back at him.

And this is a Noah whose level of caring runs so deep that he sat ruminating in front of his locker late Tuesday night after losing in Phoenix until he was the last player to change out of his uniform…even though he hadn't played the final 21.5 minutes of the game.

Much earlier on Tuesday night, when Knicks center Kyle O'Quinn had been about to replace him on the court without veering over to slap his hand, Noah barked, "Yo!" to get O'Quinn's attention, because no connective moment is allowed to be ignored.

Noah was also the one to ask Porzingis quietly about his state of mind after the loss to the Suns, which was the most emotional game of the kid's career. The Knicks had led in overtime until Porzingis fouled out, turning a game that was going New York's way only after Porzingis' surprising scuffle with Marquese Chriss (and his near-career-high 34 points) inspired his teammates to erase a 12-point deficit at the end of three quarters.

PHOENIX, AZ - DECEMBER 13:  Kristaps Porzingis #6 of the New York Knicks is congratulated by Joakim Noah #13 after scoring against the Phoenix Suns during the first half of the NBA game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 13, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizon
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

All these good vibes make it feel like forever ago that the story of Anthony's disenchantment over Porzingis was a thing. Even in tabloid-terrifying New York, no one has tried to stir it up between the two stars this season. Anthony even proved to be sensitive enough to Porzingis' character to say late Tuesday night: "Sometimes people try to take advantage of his kindness. We had his back."

This Knicks locker room is a good locker room. There are a lot of dinners out. Words such as "trust" are commonly used, as when Derrick Rose says: "We trust in each other. We're a close group."

Indeed, Rose already had a close relationship with Noah from their days in Chicago, and that relationship is serving as another seed Jackson planted to get the most out of his team, Rose in particular.

Even those without a previous bond have become sources of support for everyone. Just listen to Brandon Jennings, who exudes so much pride in being a Knick that it's infectious.

"It's one of the best experiences of my basketball career right now," Jennings said. "Just playing with the Knicks and everything that comes with it."

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 07:  (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT)    Brandon Jennings #3 of the New York Knicks in action against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Madison Square Garden on December 7, 2016 in New York City. The Cavaliers defeated the Knicks 126-94.  NOTE TO U
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Like Jackson, both Noah and Jennings are reveling in New York. Noah's a native son who once roared from the Madison Square Garden stands as a fan; Jennings has already been cruising around the blacktop courts of the city in addition to having his name chanted at the Garden.

Even if James' disdain is damaging to Jackson as a free-agent recruiter, the Knicks—and Porzingis, the diamond so confidently graded by Jackson's scouting adviser, Clarence Gaines, when he looked so rough—will still be a massive draw.

And if Jackson sticks around for 2019 and beyond, the power of Porzingis, 21, and the momentum being built now make it reasonable to imagine some future date when Jackson could even regain the upper hand on James, whose hold on the Eastern Conference eventually will loosen.

Until that happens, though, Jackson has the pleasures of the city he has embraced again, with the academic arena at Columbia University and the literary world with his author friends—plus a winning record—to sustain him.


Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.


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