Friday morning, I packed the kids into the ol’ CR-V for the ride to school, and was greeted with news the New York Knicks had met with Phil Jackson and offered him their head coaching position.
Fair to say I didn’t need Stephen A. Smith’s analysis to tell me PJ wasn’t interested.
Friday afternoon, however, things got a lot more interesting, when Frank Isola of the New York Daily News reported the Knicks put something far more intriguing on the table: A front office gig, “more than a consulting job,” Isola’s source said. A President of Basketball Operations sort of thing, it can be reasonably assumed, the type giving Jackson control of New York’s roster construction and providing the Knicks with exactly the type of credible, stable, respected face they desperately need. Jackson reportedly asked for a week or so to sit on the offer.
And this morning, ESPNLA’s Ramona Shelburne added even more spice to the gumbo. Phil wouldn’t simply be interested in taking a Pat Riley role for a team, but according to her sources, “he is open to the possibility of coaching for a short period of time if it was necessary in a transition period for a franchise with championship aspirations.”
(Anyone know where we might find one of those, locally? Anyone? I can wait…)
All of this on the heels of Thursday’s catastrophic, franchise-worst loss to the Clippers at Staples, a game most fans left early to get home and make sure their pitchforks were sharpened and torches well-oiled.
Information leaks for a purpose, and while dot-connecting is always a risky venture seeing all these things as related requires no great leap. You could hardly blame Jim Buss for feeling a little besieged this weekend. For all the discontent aimed his way for hiring Mike D’Antoni instead of Jackson (something he’ll get blamed for, even if most people – Jackson included – say Dr. Buss ultimately made that call), the saving grace for Jim is that Phil hasn’t landed anywhere else. It could have happened had the Kings moved to Seattle, where Phil was set to be part of Chris Hansen’s braintrust for the new Sonics, but didn’t. Now it appears New York, even with the James Dolan Factor, is in play. He’s just got to think about it. For a week or so. While the Lakers burn. And oh, by the way, under the right circumstances, he’d even coach again for a year or so if necessary. If, you know, there was an opening and all.
There’s nothing subtle about this.
Tick tock, Jim.
For all the legitimate criticisms of Jim Buss, all the hyperbolic stuff – cries that he’s cheap, doesn’t want to win, is willing to run the thing into the ground, etc. – are ridiculous. He wants to successfully honor his father’s legacy, showing people he’s not just a rich man’s privileged son, but a quality basketball executive. So it’s ironic that his best chance to accomplish that in the eyes of the Lakers faithful would be by falling on his own sword, stepping aside, and giving Phil (or someone else with a high level of credibility) control over the hoops side of the operation. But what sounds easy from the outside isn’t, to use the vernacular, a slam dunk. Remember, it’s not just a job Phil is after, it’s Jim’s. It’s a move simultaneously making him a hero and diminishing him, while undoing the plan for succession Dr. Buss, barely a year in the grave, set in motion.
On the other hand, if Jackson heads to New York (or anywhere, really) Jim won’t be able swing by Ralph’s for a gallon of milk without getting egged. (That the eggs and milk are generally pretty close together doesn’t help.) It could take years for him to recover, publicly, if he can at all.
To whatever degree this really is the sort of basketball palace coup attempt it appears from the outside, it’s worth noting how much damage the gambit could cause should it not work. Even if Jeanie Buss isn’t at the heart of this week’s leaks, she’s clearly never had much interest in keeping a lid on Phil chatter, despite how much it undermines Jim and therefore hurts the organization. So at best she’s an inactive, indifferent bystander, at worst she’s actively working to push her brother aside. Not great for stability under any circumstances, but if Phil doesn’t return, at a time El Segundo needs to learn how to function in a Dr. Buss-less world she’ll have real responsibility for injecting that much more conflict and uncertainty.
All of this, of course, doesn’t even address other questions. Whether all of this is truly fair to Jim, whether that even matters, whether Phil would actually thrive in a team-building role, whether the potential instability of Jackson’s return outweighs the value he might bring, and so on. There’s a lot to unpack, here.
Fun, risky, fascinating times we find ourselves in, right?