Multiple sources including the New York Post have reported that the New York Knicks expect to finalize and announce a deal with Phil Jackson, the former coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, to serve as "president" of basketball operations by week's end.
Jackson's acceptance of the position is not nearly as shocking as the Lakers' apathetic response to the accomplished coach's publicly expressed desire to return to basketball. The Lakers ignored Jackson's hints just as they ignored the fans' chants of "We want Phil!" at Staples Center.
As a player, Jackson was with the Knicks organization during its only two championships, in 1970 and 1973, so his return to the team that drafted him in 1967 is not entirely random. Jackson most famously coached Michael Jordan to six championships in the 1990s and led Kobe Bryant and the Lakers to five championships in the 2000s.
Widely regarded as the greatest coach in basketball history, Jackson interviewed for the position of head coach with the Lakers early in the 2012-13 season before the job was controversially handed to Mike D’Antoni. Jackson, who is engaged to Lakers co-owner Jeanie Buss, appeared set to accept the position and was humiliated in the process.
Following the drama with the Lakers, Jackson swore off coaching.
Instead, he expressed interest in finding a front office job. With the Knicks, he seems to have found that fit, but voices around Los Angeles have been loudly asking why the Lakers never approached, arguably, the greatest living basketball mind in the world. After all, he is practically a part of the Buss family at this point, so why did the Lakers not offer Jackson a position within their organization?
If Jackson truly lands with the Knicks, any success he experiences in New York will serve as a personal insult to the Lakers’ management. If he is successful, the Lakers will be constantly ridiculed for not even making Jackson an offer. If he leaves New York with a hanging head, the Lakers will continue to believe they were right not to bring Jackson in.
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In the worst case scenario, Jackson resurrects the Knicks and the Lakers continue to crumble. If that happens, Lakers co-owner in charge of basketball operations Jim Buss may never again safely walk a street in Los Angeles.
To be fair, Jackson enters the Knicks’ front office as an untested product. He has never done this job before, and 68 years into life is an advanced stage to start a new career. However, Jackson has more championship rings than fingers, and his nearly 50 years in and around the NBA promise that Jackson has an idea of how to run a team. At the least, Jackson understands basketball.
Essentially, the Lakers’ lack of desire to hire Jackson or even offer him a position puts him in direct competition with the city that celebrates him, the fans that still chant his name and the family he hopes to marry in to. If championship rings mean anything--and they do--betting on Jackson to fail is not a smart bet.
Unfortunately, the Lakers appear intent on taking that bet.