Knicks, Phil Jackson not in contact
Phil Jackson has not had any contact with the New York Knicks about their suddenly vacant coaching job, according to NBA coaching sources.
But it has long been assumed in coaching circles that the Knicks' job is the one position that could convince Jackson, 66, to return to the bench one last time if his health cooperates.
Knicks chairman James Dolan did not field questions at a Wednesday night news conference but did acknowledge to reporters that Mike Woodson is replacing D'Antoni for the rest of the season. Amid widespread speculation that Jackson is Dolan's No. 1 target for the job, one source close to the situation told ESPN.com on Wednesday that Jackson would likely be "fascinated" by the prospect of "how the Knicks' (current) personnel would fit in his system."
The source also said that Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin was on Jackson's radar last season when Lin was a rookie with the Golden State Warriors, which fits with Jackson's longstanding preference for big ballhandlers in his backcourt.
Jackson left the Los Angeles Lakers when his contract expired after last season's second-round sweep at the hands of the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks. He won five championships in two separate stints with the Lakers after collecting six rings in separate three-peats with the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s.
Jackson has stayed busy during this season working on another book, readying for a knee surgery and is said to be happy in retirement. But he certainly didn't rule out the possibility of coaching again following the Lakers' elimination by Dallas.
"I have no plans to return," Jackson said last May. "Today I'm sure. What it's going to be like in six months, who knows?"
Ten months have passed and Jackson's name is already hot again in the wake of D'Antoni's departure, even without word that he's ready to take the plunge. Jackson, though, has never denied that the position would have some sentimental allure because of his ties to the city as a player for the Knicks in the 1960s and 70s and his years under Knicks legend and mentor Red Holzman.
Kentucky coach John Calipari has also been widely mentioned as a possible long-term successor to D'Antoni, given his status as a client of CAA, which also represents Knicks star Carmelo Anthony. But Calipari took to Twitter on Wednesday to immediately shoot down the idea that he has interest in coming back to the NBA, saying: "As I've said before, I have the greatest job in basketball at any level. Why would I be interested in another job? I love being the coach of the commonwealth's team. To the #BBN & all the recruits that are coming or want to come, I will be at Kentucky."
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Earlier Wednesday, Sports Illustrated reported on its website that former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan would be interested in the Knicks' job.
Since retiring as coach of the Lakers last May, Jackson has consistently delivered cryptic answers about his plans for the future. Those close to him insist that is because his nature is to live in the present and remain open to change and new possibilities.
In January, Jackson told the New York Times: "I don't miss it. I really don't miss it. But I think I have to stick my finger into an electric socket every once in a while just to get a little jolt out of life to keep it going because that's what gave me the joys, the jollies of life."
Jackson has passed on the Knicks job twice before, first in 1998 and again in 2005. Both times he chose the Lakers over the chance to return to New York. There is no indication this time around that the door will be opened for Jackson to return to the Lakers' sideline for a third time, despite team sources telling ESPNLosAngeles.com last week that several players were pining for a return to Jackson's triangle offense after losing confidence in new coach Mike Brown and his schemes on offense.
Jackson associates also note that he seems genuinely resolved not to become a coaching lifer, as his friend and mentor Tex Winter did. Last May, Jackson alluded to that in his final comments as the Lakers coach.
"One of the things I watch in my days with my coaches was there was a point, and I'm about at that point, where you either move on or stay in it, you never break away from it and it becomes the rest of your life," Jackson said last May. "I always kind of thought that I'd like to do something beyond just the basketball coaching."
One thing that wouldn't be an impediment, however, is his relationship with Lakers executive Jeanie Buss. The couple has successfully maintained a long-distance relationship in the past and Buss often points to her best friend, Linda Rambis, and her long-distance relationship with her husband Kurt Rambis when he was coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Buss is frequently in New York as the Lakers' representative at NBA Board of Governors meetings.
Ramona Shelburne covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.
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