Despite all the nay-sayers who claim that Phil Jackson coached his way to 11 championships only because he had guys like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant under his command, PJ was undoubtedly the best coach in the history of the NBA.
The only other coach who enters the conversation is Red Auerbach, who, it should be noted, coached a horde of Hall-of-Famers that included Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman, Tom Heinsohn, Satch Sanders, the Jones boys, et al.
So when/if Jackson returns to the NBA, it’s big-time news.
He says that he’d return to the bench for a brief transitional period, but this doesn’t seem to be a viable option. That’s because Jackson was always a hands-on coach, personally demonstrating the proper footwork in various and sundry situations, the judicious use of elbows at both ends of the court, precisely when and how to cut, pass, and catch, and so on – all in the service of imparting the theory and practice of the triangle.
However, with two hip and one knee replacements, and his other knee reportedly to be likewise mechanized, Jackson is no longer capable of being the kind of coach he wants to be. He could, of course, hire younger, spryer, healthier assistants who are conversant with the triangle, and could provide on-court instruction during practice sessions – Kurt Rambis, Jim Cleamons, Pete Myers are possibilities if they can be freed from their current contractual obligations.
Which leads to the buzz around the league that PJ really desires to be offered complete control of a team in the same way that his one-time (and future?) arch-rival Pat Riley operates in Miami. This would entail Jackson’s being able to hire any and everybody from the coach to the scouts, from the training staff to the equipment staff – and is a position that would best satisfy his continuing passion for NBA action without further endangering his health.
Indeed, both Jackson and the franchise-to-be-named later would thrive given this situation. He could avoid long road trips, being constantly hounded by the media, and being aggravated by the refs. The immediate benefits for his new team would be the establishing of a winning attitude, along with an uncompromising honesty and credibility.
Also, it’s not a stretch to anticipate that free-agent blue-chip veterans – ringless guys who have achieved personal success – would fight each other for the real chance to win a championship under Jackson’s ultimate leadership and responsibility.
So, then, might he accept the “front office” job that New York has reportedly offered? May yes, maybe no.
On the negative side, working for an incompetent, erratic, egomaniac like Jim Dolan would be fraught with difficulties. It should be remembered that Dolan once promised full control to Donnie Walsh before shackling Walsh in velvet handcuffs.
Also, the prospects of having to work and live in the increasingly frigid Big Apple might not be very attractive after spending so many years in L.A.
The plus side of this particular equation includes the challenge of returning to the city where he first came to prominence as a player, and the realization that Carmelo Anthony (if he re-signs) resembles MJ and Kobe in his transcendent ability to create and make his own shots when the triangle flattens out as the shot clock is about to detonate.
All things considered, a return to New York might be a long shot.
But, as I’ve said many times before, although I’ve been a buddy of Phil’s for nearly 35 years, the one thing I know for sure about him is this: PJ is the epitome of the existential man, which makes trying to predict his next move an exercise in futility.