Jump ball!!!: the Phil Jackson debate

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com

VIDEO: What does it take to make the transition from great coach to great GM and does Phil Jackson have it?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The debate will rage on for years, long after the results are in and a legitimate case can be made one way or the other about the job Phil Jackson will do as the boss of the New York Knicks.

The initial surge from the hire has subsided, just a bit, and as the Knicks’ last-gasp effort to unseat the Atlanta Hawks for the eighth and final playoff slot in the Eastern Conference plays out, it’s a good time to restart this conversation.

Plenty of experts have weighed in, most of them no more qualified to dish on the prospect of Front Office Phil than they claim Jackson is for a job in the front office after making his championship bones (11 times as a coach and twice as a player) on the other side of the line.

My colleague and Hang Time California bureau chief Scott Howard Cooper, born and raised in Los Angeles and as knowledgeable about the Lakers and their lore as anyone in the business, lit the flame this time, questioning Phil’s credentials (it’s blasphemy, and will get you banned from Original Tommy’s Hamburgers for life all over the Southland SHC!).

I had to come to the defense of the Zen master, anyone who has been the common thread in as many championship situations as he has shouldn’t really need defending … but I had to go there in Jump Ball!!!  …

From: Scott Howard-Cooper
Sent: Friday, March 28, 2014 3:00 PM
To: Smith, Sekou
Subject: JUMP BALL !!!

I get why Knicks fans and players are excited: because they need any reason to be excited. But all the organization did by hiring Phil Jackson was win the press conference. James Dolan did something popular for a change and brought in a superstar. But Phil is a coaching superstar, not a front-office success. He has a lot to prove to earn this attention in the new job.

On Mar 28, 2014, at 1:48 PM, Smith, Sekou

You get Knicks fans, huh? They’ll boo you at the Garden for even suggesting something like that. The Phil factor is much like the Bill Parcells factor was in the NFL, his mere presence alone signals bigger things to come for whatever franchise he is working with. Seriously, ask folks in Dallas and New England. The Knicks need someone who can be held accountable for the big picture vision of the franchise. It doesn’t take a genius to come up with a plan … but if you can get one, why not?

From: Scott Howard-Cooper
Sent: Friday, March 28, 2014 5:43 PM
To: Smith, Sekou
Subject: Re: JUMP BALL !!!

Would you like a straw or will you drink the Kool-Aid straight from the jug? His mere presence doesn’t signal anything other than the Knicks willing to spend a lot of money. “Bigger things to come” is a slogan, not based in fact. Phil is a brilliant basketball mind. I think, if anything, he is underrated as a coach. I am a fan. But they did not hire coach Phil Jackson. They put someone in charge of basketball operations who has not worked in a front office. And if it’s such a thin line from one job to the other, let’s see how people react when New York names R.C. Buford or Sam Presti or Masai Ujiri head coach. There will obviously be others handling the day-to-day work while Phil handles the big picture and deals in final rulings. But the Knicks are a tangled mess, from salary cap to the roster itself, and he has to get a lot of things right before the Knicks can say they’re at bigger things.

On Mar 28, 2014, at 2:56 PM, Smith, Sekou

Actually, I prefer one of those fancy Camelbak adult sippy cup/water bottles when drinking my Kool-Aid, Scott. You know how I do it. Seriously, though, you are selling Phil short and the job of a general manager in this league way long. I won’t run down the list of knuckle-draggers who have been general managers in this league the past 40 years or so, but there haven’t been a ton of Hall of Famers to speak of in that regard. And to suggest that anyone’s success in the NBA isn’t rooted in equal parts blind luck and superior personnel is a farce. You can’t mention R.C. Buford or Sam Presti without also mentioning Tim Duncan and Kevin Durant, the cornerstone/Hall of Fame(caliber in Durant’s case) talents that their organizations are built around. I’m not saying those guys aren’t good at what they do. I’m just saying their jobs are much more manageable because of the personnel in place. Presti was no one’s genius before Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden came into their own. And he’d be the first one to shoot down that label. Phil deserves some time and the benefit of anyone’s doubt right now based on his Lord of the Rings status alone.

VIDEO: WRick Fox discusses the nuances of Phil Jackson’s system and how it will work in New York

From: Scott Howard-Cooper
Sent: Friday, March 28, 2014 6:10 PM
To: Smith, Sekou
Subject: Re: JUMP BALL !!!

Then let’s do it this way: What has Phil done to win you over? Are you basing his success as a GM on what he did as a coach? (And, again, I’m the last guy who sells him short. I’m the one who said he was underrated as a coach. He is an all-timer. But that’s a different job.)

On Mar 28, 2014, at 4:37 PM, Smith, Sekou

Seriously! We’re haggling over Phil’s credentials to do a job that has been bequeathed to the children of owners, former agents, guys who have graduated from the video room and folks whose credentials pale in comparison to what the Zen master has accomplished in his storied career. Coach or GM, it doesn’t make much difference to me when we’re talking about management style. Phil’s style has produced unmatched success everywhere he’s been. So he didn’t take the GM training course. Folks have to get over that and let’s see what he can do.

From: Scott Howard-Cooper
Sent: Saturday, March 29, 2014 1:08 AM
To: Smith, Sekou
Subject: Re: JUMP BALL !!!

So your argument that Phil Jackson is a good hire is centered on “There have been plenty of bad hires before”? And we’re not haggling. We’re having a discussion in the loftiest of all debate societies: the sports media.

On Mar 29, 2014, at 12:06 AM, Smith, Sekou <Sekou.Smith@turner.com> wrote:

Don’t put words in my mouth … er, on my email, or whatever. What I’m saying is this, for you or anyone else to doubt Phil Jackson’s ability to do this job is shortsighted. You clearly have not embraced the Zen! I’m simply a believer in the power of experience. And no one interested in running a franchise has more championship experience than PJax!

From: Scott Howard-Cooper
Sent: Saturday, March 29, 2014 4:19 PM
To: Smith, Sekou
Subject: Re: JUMP BALL !!!

Experience is great. And Larry Bird successfully made the transition to head of basketball operations without previously working in a front office, so it can be done. But Larry Legend had two advantages. He was very familiar with the personnel after coaching the Pacers. And, Indiana was a good team. Bird had to make adjustments to a stable situation. Jackson doesn’t need to make adjustments. He needs to marshal an overhaul. The Knicks are a mess of salaries and personnel. He will be relying heavily on others for scouting and for cap management. I don’t think I’m being shortsighted. I’m being practical. Phil was a winner like few others, but that was Zen and this is now. He has to prove he can deliver in a new job. Don’t swoon over a GM because of his coaching record.

From: Smith, Sekou
Sent: Sunday, March 29, 2014 6:51 PM
To: Scott Howard-Cooper
Subject: RE: JUMP BALL !!!

You’re making this about all of these other guys and not about Phil. Does he have to prove himself as a GM? Sure. Just as all of those other guys did. But you’re acting like all of the work he’s done in the game hasn’t prepared him for this next step and I think that’s ridiculous. I’m not saying Phil is perfect and can wave his magic Zen wand and fix all of the problems facing the Knicks. But whatever issues arise, they won’t be foreign to Phil. He’s worked in championship situations and has the benefit of that vast experience to use in his new role with the Knicks. Don’t knock a guy as a GM before we give him some time to dig in on the job.

From: Scott Howard-Cooper

Date: March 29, 2014 at 11:35:28 PM EDT
To: Sekou SMITH
Subject: Re: JUMP BALL !!!

I hope he does well. I just think it’s fair to be skeptical. If he proves it, if he delivers big results, great. But let’s let him prove it.

From: Smith, Sekou
Sent: Sunday, March 30, 2014 7:38 AM
To: Scott Howard-Cooper
Subject: RE: JUMP BALL !!!

I knew I’d get you to come around to my side. And I agree, it’s fair to be skeptical. Just as it’s fair to assume, based on his lengthy history, to give Phil the benefit of the doubt we might not give someone else who doesn’t own more championship rings than fingers!

VIDEO: Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas talks Phil, the Knicks and the fit


  1. newyorksteelo says:

    Sekou is right. Cant knock the man before giving him a chance to do the actual job. If anything, Phil should be given the benefit of the doubt simply because he is a basketball mastermind. Hire the right staff, move a few pieces here and there, obtain the right players to support Anthony and the Knicks are sure to improve by 2016 if not sooner,

    Oh, and I’d also like to add that Yes, Phil Jackson had Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen when he won 6 Championships with the Bulls, and yes he also had Kobe and Shaq to help win another 5 in LA, but people forget that these very same players where managed by others who could not and did not take them to the next level and win Championships. It wasn’t until Phil took over that they actually won championships.He made them better players. This alone indicates his ability to “manage”, and help superstars such as Carmelo Anthony, quite possibly taking him to a higher level, If there is anyone Carmelo Anthony would listen to for advice, it’s definitely Phil Jackson.

    Being the President of Basketball Operations gives Phil even more power to shape and re-strusture the team as he sees fit. Knicks made the right move, no question about it. Looking forward to see how it all turns out down the road. I am all in and put my money on Phil making the team better.

  2. David From Georgia, Europe says:

    I don’t think that Seiku Has Won him over, i think that Scott was saying same thing all along , but he was puting it in different words.

    • justsayin says:

      And even though I agree with him that there’s lots of reason for optimism – at the very minimun Phil will draw interest from real talent – it’s pretty transparent that he gave himself the last word and declared himself the winner. Which is kind of weaksauce using your blog that way.

      Really the whole thing came off as kinda immature – felt more like guys whining at each other than a real debate.

  3. Wei Kim says:

    I just love to follow the basketball team Phil Jackson is with. I was a fan of the Bulls when he was there and Lakers when Jackson was the coach. Now I am a Knicks fan. It does not matter you say Phil can or Phil can’t. To me Phil is so interesting that I am a fan of which ever franchise he is in. Cheers!

  4. dustydreamnz says:

    Yep, noone can transform them right away, any changes will be positive changes no doubt.

  5. luckyfri says:

    the knicks are a Long term struggling Franchise due to their Franchise philosophy/concept. over more than a decade the knicks managed to trade for own picks and willing to pay contracts. so we face an Environment that has failed expected success over a decade by having unique (exept lalkers) finincial Advantage. so the knicks have Need of someone who can build up a healthy Environment – thats a gm’s Job. Problems have to be solved with the right tool. Long term issues has to be solved by the gm. Call it funny but if you take a scientific view at the knicks they did right in signing a new gm. because if you want to locate the weak link of Long term issues thats the gm. (i would recommend a different view for small market Teams, because they have Problems by Holding stars, what wouldnt be a ny issue)
    overally the knicks Long term success in the last 10 years has to be regarded is big upset. bigger upset then bucks, … because the knicks have big market adavantages (attraction)
    the only Team which can be regarded as the same upset are the bobcats because they have an arithmetic mean of 5 in the last ten drafts.

  6. Jacques Durceille says:

    Phil Jackson is a parasite. He will face plant in New York and be exposed for the GM he is not. No experience, no-one really likes him in executive circles because of his high brow arrogance so they are less likely to make deals that will benefit the knicks and Phil Jackson. If you don’t believe me look up the research on google for yourself. Phil Jackson leeched off of Michael and Scottie and leeched off of Kobe and Shaq. Carmelo is not even 30% of the caliber of player those 4 guys were (and shaq was lazy) and that is saying a lot.

    Knicks are a gutter organization whose sole purpose is to remain a bottom-feeder in perpetuity. That city with that kind of money AND THAT kind of owner will never amount to anything. Dolan needs to sell or be voted out as the owner and then a true renaissance can take place. Send my regards.

    • justsayin says:

      So Shaq snoozed his way to three straight finals MVPs?
      Or should he have run his body into the ground even sooner to satisfy an egotistical ballhogging copycat.
      Someone’s letting the still-jealous Kobe think for them.

      Hope you dont implode if Kobe winds up with the Knicks – should management reject his increasing demands for control of the coaching staff and roster.

  7. cactusbylin says:

    All you have to do folks is look at Pat Riley with the Miami Heat. He was able to attract LB and CB and many other seasoned players based on his championship track record.

  8. None Of The Above says:

    As part of his argument Sekou said – “You can’t mention R.C. Buford or Sam Presti without also mentioning Tim Duncan and Kevin Durant, the cornerstone/Hall of Fame(caliber in Durant’s case) talents that their organizations are built around. I’m not saying those guys aren’t good at what they do. I’m just saying their jobs are much more manageable because of the personnel in place.”
    Don’t forget though when Phil Jackson took over at the Bulls they already had Michael Jordan & Scottie Pippen and the Lakers already had Shaquille O’Neal & Kobe Bryant so both had key players already there at the time. Like Sekou said though let’s give Phil Jackson time and judge him as a GM after the fact instead of before.

  9. OMG says:

    Why Phil J takes this job? To save the idiot James Dolan! Ha ha ha….Try it!

  10. TBPusher says:

    One of the funniest things about these PJax debates is when the “Knicks are a mess” angle gets tossed into the conversation. We only have ONE MORE YEAR to deal with bad contracts and the money flood gates reopen!! And one of the many advantages of having Phil in the nest is that superstar players will at least seriously listen to a pitch about playing in NY. The “plan” begins AFTER next season. We’ve waited this long so one more season won’t kill us…

    • Syed Akbar says:

      A lots people can ‘fix’ the Knicks AFTER one year. I would be surprised if Jackson doesn’t do it after THIS season … he could, he should … Dolan would not have hired him otherwise. It is do able. He will do it !

  11. okc2014 says:

    The Knicks are in such bad shape, that Phil Jackson can only make improvements. You will see. In 5 years. LOL

  12. I Actually Watch Basketball says:

    Great article love the format.

  13. krishawn-MIA says:

    Sekou I understand where you’re coming from a bit but I agree with Scott Howard-Cooper 100%, no ones questioning his basketball mind and we all know his coaching credentials, its just this is the knicks we’re talking about, now you’re dealing with bad contracts, cutting the best deals possible let’s not forget he’s not doing any day to day scouting, a basketball mind is only a part of the equation he has to surround himself with the right ppl and prove himself that’s all…again thsi is the knicks we’re talking about, maybe if it were less of a mess there would be less proving