So I’m going about my normal Saturday, leaving the gym and see the following SportsCenter alert on my phone: “Phil Jackson leaning toward taking job with Knicks as president of basketball operations.” I immediately laugh out loud thinking that ESPN’s mobile alerts were hacked. Then I think about it for a second and realize this opportunity actually isn’t below the Zen Master. It’s such actually an amazing opportunity because it is so truly terrible. The Knicks have somehow repeated the Isiah Thomas Cycle TWICE within a decade. Isiah Thomas notably was the Knicks GM and proceeded to run them into the ground in the early 2000s with terrible signings (Jerome James, 12th man extraordinare, and Jared Jeffries signed to Full Mid-Level Exceptions, wow), trades (acquiring Eddy Curry while trading away Tim Thomas, 2006 1st Round Pick (All Star LaMarcus Aldridge was selected with this pick) and the 2007 1st Round Pick, (All Star Joakim Noah was selected with this pick), questionable draft picks (selecting Michael Sweetney over David West, selecting Renaldo Balkman over Rajon Rondo, etc.), and completely ignoring the soft salary cap existence.
Enter Donnie Walsh, who brought the Indiana Pacers into their glory days in the 90s took on the great challenge of fixing up that joke of a franchise. He amazingly helped the franchise back into relevancy, making solid draft picks (not trading them away for a 300+ lb. center who makes Andrea Bargnani look ferocious on the boards, Isiah!), getting rid of the fat financially and literally (yes another Eddy Curry fat joke, the Knicks of ’07-’08 were once called the “fattest team in the NBA” as well), and creating financial flexibility for the 2010 NBA Free Agent Sweepstakes. Overpaying Amare was a necessity since they needed to get at least 1 star in order to try to draw a second: LeBron or Dwyane Wade. The Knicks ended up losing out that summer but still had enough young, talented, and cap-friendly players to give them an opportunity to land another big star. The 2010-11 regular season started off with a bang for New York with Amare and Raymond Felton playing the best basketball of their careers along with breakout seasons by Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and then-rookie Landry Fields. Meanwhile in Denver, Carmelo Anthony was getting impatient with the repeated first round playoff exits and looking for a new opportunity in a bigger market in an effort to win a championship. With his pending free agency following that season, he was surprisingly open with the Nuggets so they wouldn’t be left with nothing in return after his departure. The Knicks could have waited for Free Agency and simply signed him, but that is nothing that Carmelo wanted to chance given the pending lockout. Melo wanted to make sure he would get a max contract given the uncertainty with what the new collective bargaining agreement would allow. Knicks owner James Dolan stepped in and forced Donnie Walsh and Mike D’Antoni, who both were against giving up so much to acquire Melo, to go through with making the trade. This trade ended up leaving Donnie Walsh unhappy since he wanted complete decision-making autonomy without the interference of James Dolan. He left the Knicks soon after and Glen Grunwald became the new GM/puppet for Dolan.
Glen Grunwald made some good moves and some questionable moves. Quick summary is that he signed Tyson Chandler in the summer of 2012 to anchor the Knicks defense and proceeded to increase the average age of a Knick player from 26 years old in the 11-12 season to 31 years old in the 12-13 season. The Chandler signing made sense given their defensive struggles, still a solid signing in my opinion. Not retaining young talent and replacing that with some All Stars from the 1990s was not the right move and the Knicks are still handcuffed to this day and have resulted in the Knicks current mess.
Back to Phil:
Phil Jackson is the only person on this planet who MAY (I reiterate MAY) force James Dolan to sit his rich, ignorant, entitled ass down and actually allow someone to have full reign on the New York Knicks franchise. At this point, it seems clear Phil will likely never coach again, even though he claims he may do so on a short-term basis. Although he may enjoy coaching on its own merit, he likely doesn’t want to deal with the labors of being on the road with his team. Also, what incentive does he have to coach? It can only hurt his legacy as the best NBA coach of all time. Jackson is known to get restless but coaching is too tiresome for the 68 year old. A front office role would keep him involved in the sport he loves in a less demanding manner while still sharing his expertise.
So why do the Knicks make sense at this time?
The Knicks are so unbelievably bad right now, there is almost no way for it to hurt his legacy. Anyone with sound reason and education in basketball will look at the Knicks and see there is an extremely high degree of difficulty for rebuilding at this time. This leaves him with a low risk, extremely high reward situation if he can help to turn things around and bring New York a championship level team. Phil has also never had experience in a rebuilding situation, he’s almost always had at least 2 superstar level talents and was able to win that way. That has been the only reasonable criticism of him. With Amare’s contract coming off the books in the 2015 offseason, that financial flexibility can create an opportunity to bring along that second superstar. That is if Carmelo is willing to stick around for another year of misery; he is due to be a free agent after this season. If he can rebuild THIS team to success, there would be no person to challenge him as the best coach/basketball mind in NBA history (except troll of all trolls Skip Bayless of course). It also doesn’t hurt that Phil spent 10 seasons with the Knicks back in his playing days.
If James Dolan agrees to give Phil full reign, I don’t see how Phil wouldn’t take this job. If Dolan does not, Phil likely would and should reject this offer. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the days ahead.