The latest NBA buzz is that Phil Jackson was offered and turned down the Knicks coaching job. In so doing, he was also reported to have repeated something that he’s said several times before–that his coaching days are over. But a front office job? That would be a different matter.
Here’s what’s behind Phil’s decision to stay away from what he does best — coach teams to championships. Lest we forget, he has 11 rings.
For sure, he’s the best and most successful coach in NBA history, and, after sitting on the sidelines for two seasons, he still has a profound interest, passion, and understanding of the game. The primary reason why he’ll never coach again is his health. He’s already had two hip replacements and one knee replacement, plus it’s been reported that his other knee will also be mechanized.
During his halcyon seasons in the command seat for the Bulls and the Lakers, PJ was always a hands-on coach during virtually every practice session. He would personally demonstrate appropriate footwork; the theory and practice of well-placed elbows on defense; where certain passes should target; the proper way to close out in defense of 3-point shooters; and so on. With the exception of demonstrating how to perform a 360-dunk, Jackson’s contact with his players was practical, demanding, up-close and personal. But with his bionic joints, this approach is no longer available.
Reduced to using only his voice and his body language to instruct, motivate, praise, and correct his charges would be unacceptable.
However, since Phil still has an NBA Jones, it’s hard to imagine that he’ll never again get involved in some way with some team sooner rather than later. Indeed, the most viable possibility would be assuming total control of a team’s entire basketball program.
That would mean hiring a coach who could revive and perpetuate the triangle offense; hiring scouts who see the game and the players with the same discerning eye that he does; installing strictly a nuts-and-bolts GM; and getting involved with the staffing at every level of the organization from the training staff to the equipment managers. This way, Jackson could operate on a hands-on basis everywhere but on the court.
Duplicating the job description of, say, Pat Riley, Jackson could avoid the physical and psychological discomfort of embarking on long road trips. He would also be removed from having to directly deal with referees.
The Knicks have reportedly offered Jackson this dream job, and an answer could be forthcoming in a matter of days.
But some words of caution: Working for the incompetent and erratic Jim Dolan would be an exercise in frustration. And the free hand that Dolan once promised to Donnie Walsh turned out to be velvet handcuffs. Besides, after PJ has spent so many winters in the warmth and sunshine of Los Angeles, living in the increasingly frigid New York climate might likewise be unacceptable.
He did, remember, turn down the opportunity to be the head honcho in Brooklyn.
What other possibilities might be offered to Jackson?
Atlanta? Sacramento? Working for MJ in Charlotte? The underachieving Grizzlies? Too bad Jackson once called Orlando “a plastic city.”
An interesting possibility might be the Clippers, especially if this overly hyped ball club flops early in the playoffs. Just imagine how many blue-chip free agents would love (Love?) to play in L.A. under the direction of the Zen Master.
I’ve been a buddy of Phil’s for over thirty years, and there’s one thing that I know about him: It’s impossible to know what his plans are.
Charley Rosen is an American author and former basketball coach. From 1983–1986, he was an assistant to Phil Jackson with the Albany Patroons of the Continental Basketball Association. He also served as head coach of the Patroons, as well as the CBA’s Rockford Lightning, Oklahoma City Cavalry and Savannah Spirits. A native of The Bronx, N.Y., the 72-year-old Rosen is the author of 16 books about basketball. He is known for his in-depth analysis and caustic views.