NEW YORK -- He always did dare Phil Jackson to take one of those jobs where there was no Hall of Fame talent on the roster, where there was no time to pass out library books in the locker room when a bunch of a AAU-produced knuckleheads had never heard of the pick and roll -- never mind Zen. If Jackson was going to obliterate Red Auerbach's record for NBA championships, Red wanted to see him do it the old-fashioned way, beginning in a hot gymnasium, teaching the game to a reclamation project.
"He's done a fantastic job with the teams he had -- either Chicago or Los Angeles," Auerbach told me once. "All I said is that he never tried it the other way. He's never tried building a team and teaching the fundamentals. I'm not saying he can't do it. Maybe he can. But he never had to. When he's gone in there, they've been ready-made for him. It's just a matter of putting his system in there. They don't worry about developing players if they're not good enough. They just go get someone else."
"But hey, when the guy has won as many close games as he has, he's got to be pretty damn good."
The Knicks shouldn't let Jackson do it on their dime -- or, say, $35 million over five seasons. How can nine NBA championship rings be wrong when hiring a coach? Well, it is for the Knicks. Jackson is a massager, a consensus maker, a coach of nips and tucks and tweaks. His style is subtle, not jarring. And the Knicks need jarring.
They need Larry Brown.
A rejuvenated Hubie Brown.
Or, the coach they could've had a year ago, Mike Fratello.
They need old-school, not new-age. They don't need Zen, but a kick in the butt. And could you imagine running the triangle offense with Stephon Marbury, Jamal Crawford and Tim Thomas? It would be the Bermuda Triangle offense.
This isn't to suggest that Isiah Thomas should hire Jackson under no circumstances, because let's face it Jackson is a smart man, and his staggering success ought to give him the benefit of the doubt that he could adjust his style to meet the needs of a forsaken franchise. What's more, Jackson's a Knick. He's one of Red Holzman's champions.
But that's not a reason to hire Jackson, and it sure doesn't make him the best choice for the job. If Larry Brown can get out of his contract with the Pistons, he's the coach for the Knicks. He's made his reputation turning reclamation projects into contenders. He walks into the gym, tightens up the defense, spreads the ball and gets the most out of everyone. He's a Long Island kid, and he's always dreamed of coaching the Knicks at the Garden.
With the Pistons' 2004 NBA title, Brown officially maxed-out the Detroit job. They were never suited to be repeated champions, just a one-shot champion when circumstances broke right for him. Of course, Brown' tough to tolerate for management at every stop, and it sounds like Bill Davidson and Joe Dumars are discovering the bad that comes with the good.
The Knicks would have to think twice about giving up more draft picks for the rights to Brown, given that Jackson comes compensation-free. Yet Jackson isn't the perfect coach for the Knicks, and they need to find the perfect coach. Thomas has to set his ego aside, allow for someone else to share the face of the franchise and get a front-line figure for his bench.
They need someone willing to step down off that championship pedestal, down into the trenches of New York City, and roll his sleeves up to get one hellacious job done. They don't need a manager of egos, because how these Knicks feel is immaterial. They need toughness, and directness and a teacher of the game. For a championship contender on the cusp, Phil Jackson is the only choice, but these aren't the Knicks now. Nor soon. And these sure aren't the Holzman Knicks of the early 1970s.
This is a mess, and as much as Red Auerbach urges him to try, Phil Jackson simply doesn't do windows.
Adrian Wojnarowski is a sports columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPNWoj8@aol.com. His book, The Miracle Of St. Anthony: A Season with Coach Bob Hurley And Basketball's Most Improbable Dynasty, can be pre-ordered before its February release.