By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com
What we know about Phil Jackson the coach: He’s a superstar, one of the all-time greats, an underrated and excellent tactician while his motivational skills get the attention, respected to the highest levels even by colleagues who dislike his smug, condescending personality to the deepest levels.
What we know about Phil Jackson the personnel boss:
Jackson on the Knicks sideline would be something to celebrate, a coup for the franchise to get someone who for years has shaped himself as a closer for title hopefuls, and New York is definitely not. Jackson running basketball ops is more like a curiosity.
Wanting glitz more than experience, the Knicks got it. They won the press conference. Fans starved for any morsel of good news after years of horrible decisions can rejoice that a legend is joining the organization. Phil Jackson will make them feel good.
And, since ownership hired the name and not the track record, will Jackson bring the kind of credibility that really makes a difference? Will a player, for example, take less money (a real possibility for another summer unless Jackson is able to miraculously offload one of the bad contracts) or fewer wins (speaking of real possibilities) if the Knicks are still a capped-out club trying to touch the end of the Eastern Conference playoff pack, just because the Zen Master is at the top of the basketball masthead?
Jackson has been training internally for this moment for years, having viewed himself more and more as a front-office guy, especially after being passed over for a third stint as Lakers coach in favor of Mike D’Antoni. If the Kings had been sold to the Chris Hansen group and moved to Seattle as the new SuperSonics, there is a good chance Jackson would have become president of basketball operations or some similar gaudy title that meant general manager. He has been looking for this kind of opportunity.
In that way, strangely, he needed the Knicks more than the Knicks needed him. New York got the name, which is obviously something to them, but Jackson got the job. They could have gone a lot of other directions, albeit without the same star power to soothe the masses, while Jackson, at 68, didn’t have the same options among teams that had job openings in a city he would live.
Jackson is very smart and will show up with a plan, and maybe he conquers this just as he did coaching. That wouldn’t be the biggest shock. But all we know for now is that the Knicks hired someone to run basketball operations who has never worked in basketball operations and that they will be cheered for it in New York.
Jackson won’t be out grinding on the college scouting circuit and he won’t get into emotional wrestling matches with agents unhappy with a client’s playing time. Someone else will handle the day-to-day. But there will come times when Jackson will have to make a major roster decision that involves proper use of the salary cap in addition to basketball acumen.
He can’t shape the roster in his coaching vision either, because coach Phil Jackson would never want a ball-stopper like Carmelo Anthony yet the Knicks have made it clear the idea is to keep ‘Melo and surround him with veterans, not split with Anthony this summer in free agency. New York could miss the playoffs and still have people asking them about the possibility of championships within a couple years. The new general manager, by some title, arrives with expectations.
That’s all we know about Phil Jackson the personnel boss right now.