In the eyes of many, the unbridled mess that is the New York Knicks just received the most drastic makeover this side of Ally Sheedy in “The Breakfast Club” upon hiring Phil Jackson as team president and Zen Master Extraordinaire. Hopes are high in the Big Apple, but plenty of question marks linger, even for a man with 11 rings.
It remains to be seen whether Jackson’s arrival provides enough confidence and stability to convince Carmelo Anthony to re-up. (A cynic, however, might suspect Jackson provides the Knicks cover should Melo bolt.) It remains to be seen whether Jackson has the acumen to build a team from the ground up with no front office experience. It remains to be seen whether Jackson, nearly 70 years old, has the energy for this gig’s daily grind and the patience to build the right way.
Most importantly, it remains to be seen whether Jackson can work under owner James Dolan, famously viewed as an egomaniacal and idiotic lunatic seemingly out to destroy Madison Square Garden’s biggest attraction. (He does play a mean guitar, though.)
Still, Jackson oozes gravitas, and that alone could be enough to lure A-list free agents, which is half the battle. Plus, that basketball brain ain’t inconsiderable. A turnaround is hardly a given, but it’s certainly easy to understand why New York would roll the (very expensive) dice.
In the meantime, Jackson hasn’t held a position with the Los Angeles Lakers since retiring as coach in 2011 and was unlikely to become their employee again. But for some Lakers front office types, players and fans, it feels like an asset and a member of the family has left them.
And that’s precisely why this development might actually be a positive for the Lakers in the long run.
To a very palpable degree, Jackson’s presence has been a paralyzing element for the Lakers. Internally, he’s been a point of contention between Jim and Jeanie Buss (who’s often passive-aggressively exacerbated the situation), and between Jim Buss and Kobe Bryant.
Externally, he is the prism through which fans and media evaluate every decision. Had the front office not foolishly allowed expectations for Jackson’s third stint as coach, Mike D’Antoni likely would have been warmly received. Instead, he became regarded as the guy who should have been P.J.
Jackson’s absence has been blamed for Dwight Howard’s departure, as if other factors (namely, Bryant’s presence) weren’t obvious deterrents as well. And with Jackson theoretically available to be brought into the front office, Buss has been continually crushed for not hiring him. Never mind that Buss would likely have had to surrender his own job for The Zen Master, not to mention alter plans set by the late Dr. Jerry Buss.
If you want to argue keeping Jackson at arm’s length is foolish, fair enough. But it’s nonetheless impossible to deny how the setup is inherently problematic.
Thus, if Jackson wasn’t going to be hired by the Lakers, it’s actually best for him to be officially off the table as an option. For better or worse, he is no longer available to serve as a wedge, and all the important principals have no choice but to truly move forward.
Kobe has a responsibility to support the owner who gave him an exceptionally generous (and cap-clogging) extension. Jeanie has a responsibility to put the franchise first and avoid taking this development personally. And with Jackson no longer casting a shadow, Jim has a responsibility to deliver. Even as someone who thinks Jim has taken some unfair lumps, there’s no question he’s got a lot to prove.
Time for everybody to get to work.
On to the rankings.