May 2, 2005
Memo to Isiah Thomas: Please listen to me and don't waste your time chasing Phil Jackson as the next coach of the New York Knicks. The man you should go after is P.J. Carlesimo.
Pound-for-pound, inch-for-inch, Isiah was the best player I have ever seen. And in an NBA front office, as the Knicks' president, he's still a competitor and a winner.
Carlesimo, meanwhile, has done a super job as an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs, bouncing back after getting a raw deal in the Latrell Sprewell situation.
P.J. knows the New York area very well, and he's a fighter and competitor like you are, Isiah. Carlesimo coached Seton Hall (in New Jersey) to the 1989 national championship game, where his Pirates fell to Michigan. A controversial last-second foul call in overtime led to two made free throws by Rumeal Robinson and an 80-79 victory that gave Michigan the national title.
Ask a great coach like Chuck Daly, who can tell you all about Carlesimo as a leader. The Knicks blew it earlier this season when they didn't go after Mike Fratello, as I suggested, who led the Grizzlies into the playoffs.
Carlesimo would love to have the Knicks job, and he would be a phenomenal fit there.
I believe that Phil Jackson's unbelievable relationship with the Buss family, which owns the Los Angeles Lakers, will lead him to return to L.A. Mr. Jackson doesn't have as much love for anyone in the Big Apple. He'll have a sit-down with Kobe Bryant and work things out.
If you were in love with someone, as Jackson is, and you were crazy about her namely Jeannie Buss, daughter of owner Jerry Buss and she was staying in Los Angeles because she's a key executive with the Lakers, would you go to New York? I don't think so. But it all depends on the strength of the relationship.
Sure, it would be interesting for Jackson to return to the Knicks, where he played under legendary coach Red Holzman and won a championship in 1973. I believe he would love the challenge of bringing the Knicks back to life after the team has struggled in recent years.
But the bottom line is that Jackson might hear Jeannie tell him that her daddy would give $10 million a season, and maybe even an ownership share in the team, for Phil to return. Maybe that would be enticing enough!
Isiah, make the right move and hire P.J. Carlesimo to right your ship at Madison Square Garden!
Dick Vitale coached the Detroit Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question to Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.