Should Knicks fans be hoping for Phil Jackson to come out of retirement and rescue their beloved franchise from its current dumpster fire state?
If he came out of retirement now, he would not be doing so to be the coach of the Knicks – he’d be doing so to be the savior of the organization, the way Pat Riley’s done it in Miami. Phil Jackson is a legend and one of the most successful coaches in the history of team sports, but running the front office – never mind saving a franchise as broken as the Knicks - is something the former Bull and Laker coach has never done before.
The man clearly understands how to motivate athletes and shape superstars into champions. Jordan, Shaq and Kobe never won titles until Jackson sat at the front of their benches despite all three being perennial NBA first teamers.
The Knicks really needed Jackson during the summer of 2010, when Miami Heat team president Pat Riley was walking into pitch Miami to LeBron by tossing a bag of championship rings on the table and playfully telling the most prized free agent ever, ‘Go ahead. Why don’t you try one on?’ New York countered with Donnie Walsh, the ‘ third president of the decade (currently on their 5th this century), who was pushed in via wheelchair as he was recovering from neck surgery.
We all know what happened next. LeBron, Bosh and Wade all took pay cuts signing in Miami and now have two titles and three finals appearances in three years to show for it. New York signed Amar’e Stoudemire as a consolation prize, and then gutted their roster to trade for Carmelo Anthony. They have one playoff series victory to show for that.
When it comes down to it, the Knicks’ problems are institutional. They’re led by meddlesome, irrational and incompetent sports owner/musician James Dolan, who like many billionaire sports owners, refuses to give up control to the supposed basketball experts he hires, lest the team actually succeed and anybody but him be seen as the savior. In to this mess (potentially) steps the Zen master himself, former Knick player and 13-time NBA champion (2 as a player, 11 as coach) Phil Jackson, one of the few people with the cache to keep Dolan away from basketball decisions - in theory.
No one knows if Phil Jackson is the right guy. Sure, the Pat Riley approach looks great now, but Riley was in Miami for 10 years before the Heat won a title, and Miami sports fans only have to look as far as the Dolphins and Bill Parcells to see how such an approach can stifle an organization for years upon years. Jackson is 68 and his health has been a question mark for a few years now; he cited it as one of the main reasons he stopped coaching. He’s also never actually constructed his own team before; he was always the missing piece. He is the coach who wins titles by expertly motivating veterans to his system and style of play.
The Knicks don’t need a renovation; they need a wrecking ball. They over-performed last year in an aging, injury-filled Eastern Conference, creating inflated expectations for a poorly constructed roster, whose many flaws have surfaced this year as anything and everything that could go wrong has.
Making the Knicks into contenders requires an ugly multi-year reboot, which won’t be easy as executives around the league are smarter than ever (outside of a few markets) and necessary draft picks have transformed into gold chips. Making any rebuilding more difficult is the fact that the Knicks have already traded away first-round picks for this year and 2016.
Hiring Phil Jackson is never a bad idea as long as you remember who you’re hiring. Part of the mystique of the Zen master is his ability to handle the media as his personal soundboard. During his career he’s had public feuds with multiple superstars and never came out with dirt on his hands. Ask Lakers executive Jim Buss how that turns out - or former Bulls GM Jerry Krause. It’s only a matter of time till something gets leaked to the predatory New York press triggering some sort of nonsense feud - real or fake it doesn’t matter. Can Dolan’s ego handle being undercut by an employee? Even one as successful as Jackson?
"So Trinity...my boss James Dolan, could you maybe..."
The other side of the coin - can Phil Jackson’s ego handle being a silent figurehead and company man? Jackson has always been about what’s best for Phil Jackson; being a silent partner hasn't ever been his style as a player or coach. Can he embrace being a role player told to go recruit this guy and that guy?
The Knicks (and other New York teams) have stopped developing talent, instead turning to buying names. New York is a ‘name’ town. Names sell; they’re good for business. Above everything this would be a name hire for the fans to calm the current hysteria. There is a rally and full-scale boycott of James Dolan organized by fans set for March 19th, complete with Twitter handle. Dolan is desperate for some sort of peace offering with fans and, like a guilt-ridden pet owner trying to make amends for working too much, may hope he can buy a new shiny toy to placate the beast; this feels like a shiny new toy situation for Knicks fans. Even if the Knicks do somehow end up with Phil Jackson, I don’t think it’ll change anything - definitely not in a New York minute.
At the same time, who doesn’t like having a new toy to play with?