We have the scoop on whether Phil Jackson is about to return, assume Red Holzman’s mantle and restore the greatness they last glimpsed 39 years ago.
That’s “nope” as in, I don’t think it will happen now, and it’s not likely to happen any time this season.
After that, we’ll have to see what happens to coach Mike D’Antoni, in the event he lasts the rest of the season, or his successor—I’m assuming it would be assistant coach Mike Woodson–in the event he lasts the rest of the season.
No one ever knows what Phil will do, not even inner-most insiders like Sam Smith of Bulls.com, my colleague in the newspaper biz and now in Life After Tribune.
That’s because Phil never knows, although to date, whenever he has gone away, he has come back.
If he coaches again, I’d say there’s a 99 percent chance it’ll be with the Knicks.
There’s no mathematical certainty on this part, but I don’t think that time is at hand.
A phone call won’t do it. It would take a major initiative in which the Knicks prostrate themselves, tug at his former-Knick heartstrings, pledge to carry out his every whim and offer the $12-15 million it will take to impress him.
That’s annually, of course.
Woodson is on the scene, wouldn’t run his mouth on his players and bosses as Phil would and at, say, $2 million, would represent a savings of $10-13 million.
That’s annually, too, as long as he lasts with this wildly-hyped star-searching misfit of a team.
With the buildup for this team after 17 years of post-Pat Riley decline, including the last 10 of post-Jeff Van Gundy irrelevance, even if the Knicks (21-24 with Carmelo Anthony) have yet to show it’s vaguely justified, Woodson would have to go deep into the playoffs.
When, er, if that doesn’t happen, with management looking into the narrowing eyes of one of nature’s scariest predators—New York fans whose expectations you have raised and then ruined—the unthinkable may suddenly become obvious:
Hey, if our gate is now $2 million per game, we can pay his salary with a good homestand!
However, before I continue to speculate about D’Antoni’s job while he’s still in it, D’Antoni is not only a prince, his offense is the best thing to happen to NBA basketball in decades.
It wasn’t just fun. With all the yammering about not being able to win in the playoffs, his Suns made two Western Conference finals—and might have gone all the way in 2007 if David Stern hadn’t suspended Amare Stoudemire for Game 5 in Phoenix of their 2-2 series with San Antonio for strolling off the bench during a scrum—as Tim Duncan had during an earlier scrum.
The next thing you knew, teams everywhere were adopting it, like the straight-laced Spurs, who began spreading the floor and running as many pick-and-rolls as it took before defenders got dizzy and toppled over.
Unfortunately, after putting together a nice little team in New York–like the Suns, just without Steve Nash—they traded most of it for Anthony.
With Melo, the anti-Nash, holding the ball for, like 10 minutes a game, there went the offense that ranked No. 1 annually in Phoenix , 5th, 9th and 2nd in D’Antoni’s first three Knick seasons, and is now down to a tie for No. 12.
So, whenever it happens, farewell and godspeed, Mike!
With that as prologue, I had lunch with Jackson last week, at a little bistro in non-trendy El Segundo, just south of LAX, where he knows he’s least likely to be bothered.
Of course, as we walked in the door, someone yelled from across the street, “When you coming back?”
We had been doing these lunches since he took over the Lakers in 1999, and the first question was always how long he was going to stay.
The answer was always, I’m taking it day by day… but I can’t see myself staying all six years on my contract (upon his 1999 arrival) or longer than three more years (upon his 2005 return) or ever doing it again (last week).
Of course, if he does….
Idiosyncratic, naturally alienated—picture the son of Montana evangelicals arriving in Manhattan in the ‘60s, living within walking distance of the Village, light-years from the NBA lifestyle—Jackson isn’t comfortable in many places.
However, the places he knows are special to him, from wind-swept Montana, to shimmering Manhattan, to frigid Chicago, to the beach in his picture window in Playa Del Rey.
It took a year to get comfortable here, long enough for him to win a title and to start seeing Jeannie.
Until then, it looked a little on the wiggy side.
The first time we had lunch, in the spring of 2000, he said he was looking for a local theme to replace the Native American motif he used in Chicago.
“I don’t know what I’m going to come up with for this Laker team,” he said. “They’ve got their own thing going on.
“The Crips and the Bloods? That’s really L.A.”
He never came up with one (I used to compare him to Mad Magazine’s dumbstruck Alfred E. Neuman, author of the phrase, “What, me worry?”) but, fortunately, he didn’t trot out any more light references to the Crips and Bloods.
Bottom line, he ♥ New York.
His Knicks were another organization, a long time ago, living in his heart in his ties to his surviving teammates, Bill Bradley, Walt Frazier, et al.
New York, the place, is special. Phil has a New York thing.
On the other hand, in his third try, he has never been happier in retirement with seven grandchildren, three of whom live in the area, taking the whole family to Yosemite for Christmas.
He won’t coach unless he feels the itch and doesn’t think he will (“I have no desire to coach. You never say never, right? I mean, there’s always something that might change my mind–but I just don’t see it,” he said.)
On the other hand, he says that every time he retires.
One of these retirements, he would like it to stick, as opposed to spending his dotage on an NBA bench.
On the other hand, he gets restless (“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.”)
So Gotham and Phil’s inner circle await further developments.