By now Phil Jackson’s name is on the tips of every Knicks fans’ tongue, sports commentators and talk show hosts are dissecting Phil’s impact on the Knicks and explaining how returning to Madison Square Garden will fulfill him. At 66 with a body infinitely older does Jackson want or need to return to coaching even if its for his beloved Knicks who he played for nearly his entire career.
While Jackson has no shortage of money having earned record salaries with the Los Angeles Lakers there is little doubt that James Dolan would give Jackson a blank check to coach the Knicks and return them to glory. Dolan is not naive he understands the overwhelming home run hiring Jackson would be in the New York media as well as around the league. Conservatively speaking Jackson likely would command a salary starting between $12M-$15M a season but would Jackson actually be able to turn things around on the court for the Knicks?
Now that the offseason has begun for the Knicks there are many tough issues facing New York this summer regarding the roster and whether to resign Jeremy Lin. Phil’s triangle offense is known to require a balanced lineup but can the Zen Master break through to Carmelo Anthony and convince him, like he did with Michael Jordan and to some extent Kobe Bryant, to sacrifice some shots for the good of the team. Anthony in the loss to the Heat averaged 27.6 ppg but shot only 42% from the field and that is precisely the type of wasteful shooting that makes Phil cringe.
Towards the end of Phil’s career in L.A. his health problems were so significant that he was forced to miss some games. That sort of circus would likely be scrutinized by the New York media. On paper the Knicks are one of the more talented teams in the East but must contend with the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls for supremacy and this would require hard work and good coaching from Phil, who would not be able to coast.
While critics of Phil point to him handpicking his situations and always benefitting from having great players the Knicks situation would be slightly different. With Anthony, Phil would have a borderline top-10 player and with Amare Stoudemire another top-25 caliber player when healthy. Most coaches in the NBA would love that situation for Phil this would qualify as a bare cupboard. There is no doubt that Phil’s hire would also require him to change the culture in New York and with a body that is already breaking down can the Zen Master do it. Having won 11 NBA Championships as a coach Phil is arguably the only coach outside of Pat Riley or Gregg Popovich who can command the respect of Carmelo and challenge him to buy into his system.
Would returning to New York and following in the footsteps of Red Holzman be for the money or for sentimental reasons? Turning 67 prior to the NBA season with various aches and pains, what does Phil still have left to prove? In the end it will be a surprise if Jackson accepts the Knicks job but there is no doubt that this is the only job in the NBA that could entice him to come back.