Phil can't mail Knicks job in from afar
To fix Knicks' issues, Phil Jackson must do so from the inside out, not vice versa
Phil Jackson thinks he is smarter than everyone else, and he has a trophy case the size of a three-car garage to back him up. In fact, Jackson is so smart, and so sure of himself, he probably thinks he can successfully run the New York Knicks from a space station in orbit.
Technology has made the world smaller than a basketball, right? So what's the problem? Why can't Jackson use email, Skype and the good ol' cell to communicate the principles of the triangle to the less enlightened and to explain why Zen philosophy reserves no sanctuary for the me-centric likes of J.R. Smith?
Because he has no idea how badly the Knicks are screwed up, that's why. Jackson might think he knows from watching games, from talking to confidants around the league, and from reading news accounts of the bizarro world of Jim Dolan, but he doesn't have a clue. And he wouldn't have a clue until he got up close and personal with a Madison Square Garden regime obsessed with defeating an opponent, the news media, that you won't find anywhere in your Eastern Conference standings.
So here's the real danger if you're a Knicks fan right now, living and dying on the report from ESPN's Stephen A. Smith that Jackson is leaning toward accepting the Knicks' offer of front-office employment: At 68, with a history of health concerns, Jackson might assume he'd be best served trying to solve the Knicks' overwhelming problems from a Southern California condo or a lakefront home in Montana.
New York is a cold, unforgiving place after all. It's no country for old men.
Especially old men who have built a Hall of Fame career on careful, sure-thing choices.
"He picks his spots," Red Auerbach once said of Jackson.
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The Knicks can't allow Jackson to pick a distant spot now. They can't allow him to rule from afar no matter how desperate they are to bring back Carmelo Anthony, a free agent in July, and to change the conversation about this toxic dump of a season.
Go ahead and give Jackson every last nickel he demands; it's only money, Jim Dolan's money, and the wage won't even force the billionaire to cover a luxury-tax bill with it. Go ahead and give Jackson complete control over basketball operations, and let him tell Steve Mills, Allan Houston and Mark Warkentien what to do and where to go.
Only if the Knicks are willing to give the former Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers head coach their everything, he has to return the favor. Much as Jackson might want to enjoy continued fun in the sun with his fiancée, Jeanie Buss, the Knicks need him in Manhattan, not Manhattan Beach. They need him to feel the pulse of their wayward franchise and, through face time and on-site interactions, they need him to evaluate the chemistry (or lack thereof) between player and player, player and coach, coach and staff, staff and media.
Jackson has to attack this monumental challenge from the inside out, not from the outside in. The Knicks aren't a rebuilding job; they're Pompeii. Bringing this basketball city back to life will require a meticulous, head-to-toe examination of the damaged infrastructure. Does Jackson really have the requisite desire and energy for that kind of project?
Probably not. Only the money might be too good, and the potential rewards too great, for Jackson to say no. He's already won 11 NBA titles as a head coach, two more than Auerbach, so there's nothing left to conquer on that front. If he can follow Pat Riley's path and win a title or two as an executive, and win in the city that hasn't seen a Knicks championship since he played for Red Holzman in 1973, Jackson would wrap the perfect ribbon around the perfect career.
Riley couldn't win it all in New York with a better roster than the "clumsy" one now in place, and maybe Jackson sees an opportunity in that truth. Or maybe Auerbach's bygone tweaks about those ready-made champs in Chicago and Los Angeles finally drove Jackson to prove that he didn't need Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, or Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, to land in a parade, and that he could get there with the flawed franchise player that is Carmelo Anthony.
But no matter the motive, Jackson should understand something: If he's handed complete control of the Knicks, he can't treat it like the easy-money consulting gig he had with the Detroit Pistons. This wouldn't be Jerry West advising the Golden State Warriors, or the late Chuck Daly advising the Memphis Grizzlies. This would be the toughest NBA job Jackson ever accepted, and one that would make his refereeing of the Kobe-Shaq hostilities feel like a walk in Central Park.
He can't mail it in, or Skype it in, and his friend Jordan could tell him all about that. A couple of years ago, with Jordan an established absentee owner and with his Bobcats about to finish a shortened season at 7-59, a newspaper headline in his adopted hometown, Chicago, called him "a disgrace" for seemingly turning up everywhere but Charlotte, N.C.
Jackson has to know that he can't have it both ways here, that he can't take the power and the cash and not the never-ending obligations that come with it. The lord of the rings can't lord over the Knicks from a faraway beach or ranch, doing whatever it is that Zen Masters do.
Jackson has to move to New York, and start grinding 24/7, for the Knicks to have any shot of emerging as a legitimate contender in two or three years. And really, if he has no intention of doing that, he should let the Knicks go scramble for another savior they can prop up for the fans who are mobilizing against them.
Yes, Jackson is known for doing what Jackson wants to do. When Garden and Knicks executive Dave Checketts secretly courted him in 1999, Jackson was told to show up alone to a meeting at Checketts' Connecticut home. The blue-chip recruit showed up with his agent, Todd Musburger, instead.
Jackson didn't take any Knicks job then, but sure seems a lot more likely to take one now. As long as he understands the terms of engagement, no problem. Phil Jackson, rookie executive, is a gamble worth taking in New York.
As long as he decides to live and work in, you know, New York.