The Nets have “firmly targeted” Phil Jackson to take over as coach, Howard Beck reports in the New York Times. Which is how it should be. Jackson is the ultimate closer and not a developer and Brooklyn has enough pieces to plot a playoff run. The former Knick speaks fondly about the city and owner Mikhail Prokhorov has the kind of deep pockets required to even start a conversation.
There is no word from Jackson himself on whether the feeling is mutual. But there is the way-back machine and Jackson being asked about Prokhorov on May 25, 2010.
“I’d like to have a vodka with him at some point,” Jackson said. “He seems like a very interesting young man.”
The backstory is important. Jackson, who was still coaching the Lakers but about to become a free agent, was talking in Phoenix before a playoff game. He was clearly loving the chance to tweak L.A. management, a favorite pastime. It was Jackson doing serve-and-volley with the media and not caring if his wandering eyes were visible about 90 minutes before Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.
Jackson in a hilarious moment was specific enough, though, to say he had no desire to return to his previous life as Bulls coach. So saying he was intrigued by Prokhorov does, in retrospect, seems real and not just a chance to sweat the Lakers out for the extension that would eventually come.
(The best part was Jackson denying being flattered by the speculation surrounding various coaching vacancies, calling it “a distraction, I think, to other teams and I think a disservice to coaches that are really seeking jobs and have an opportunity to go to teams.” A high road he took, of course, about a minute after noting he would like to throw back some good stuff with Prokhorov. Classic Phil.)
As it turned out, Jackson returned to the Lakers for the attempt at the threepeat, left a year later with a very bad playoff ending, and the Nets hired Avery Johnson on June 15, 2010. And now here they are again, Jackson a 100 percent free agent, the Nets looking for a coach and with spending power and the roster to back up their pursuit, and with Prokhorov still “interesting,” even if the “young man” part is not as applicable 2 ½ years later.
As Beck reported:
Asked if he would be interested in a coach with 11 championships, Prokhorov smiled broadly as a dozen camera shutters snapped. He again pledged support for [interim coach P.J.] Carlesimo but said, “If it becomes necessary, you know who usual suspects are.”
When Jackson’s name was specifically mentioned, Prokhorov turned coy: “I never heard this name, you know.”
A person with ties to the search called Jackson “the No. 1 choice,” for all of the obvious reasons. He is the most decorated coach in N.B.A. history, he is available, and he has strong ties to New York, having begun his playing career with the Knicks and ended it with the Nets (then in New Jersey).
All other candidates are considered distant second choices, at least until Nets officials determine whether Jackson wants the job. That is an open question, even among Jackson’s friends. It is far from certain that Jackson will coach again, and if so, whether he can be lured to Brooklyn.
Prokhorov and the Nets obviously have to try. Talk to Jackson. Invite him out for a drink.