Trying To Make Sense Of The Phil Jackson Knicks Rumors

First, the Knicks were trying to get Phil Jackson to coach even though they have yet to terminate their current coach, Mike Woodson. Next, owner James Dolan hijacked negotiations (â„… Frank Isola) and Phil was joining the front office and the deal was all but done. Now sources tell ESPN’s Chris Broussard the team and Jackson are simply dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on a contract that would give him autonomy on all basketball-related matters. Except, not everyone’s sources agree, and so we’re left in the muck of rumormongering and conflicting reports about a franchise that’s just as conflicted.

While Broussard’s sources say Jackson is a shoo-in to sign on as the president of basketball operations, Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio has his own source close to Jackson who says those reports are “greatly exaggerated.”

Next we have a pair of New York Daily News reports from Frank Isola on the linkbait gold that is the vetting of Jackson rumors. The estimable Isola first reported that if Jackson is hired, current GM Steve Mills is all but gone:

Mills’ meeting with Jackson two weeks ago was a “disaster,” according to a person with knowledge of the negotiations. Jackson rejected the chance to replace Mike Woodson on the bench and instead is considering a move into the front office after speaking with Garden chairman James Dolan.

“Phil doesn’t want to work with Steve,” said a person close to Jackson. “Mills doesn’t know what to think now. Dolan is calling the shots on this one.”


“The problem with having a plan here is that Jim is OK with it until you start losing and then he’ll step in and want to change the plan immediately,” said one Knicks official. “Steve hasn’t been here that long and already Jim wants to try something different.”

Just to be clear, Broussard’s sources say that, “Jackson will take over the Knicks’ basketball operations department from president and general manager Steve Mills. Mills, however, will remain an integral part of the organization, according to the source.” So, um, that’s a pretty big disconnect.

As previously mentioned, Isola also wrote a piece about how Dolan has hijacked the Jackson negotiations from Mills, which — for any lucid New York fan of hoops — is no surprise. So we tend to side with Isola and believe Mills is gone if Jackson is brought on board. But that also casts suspicion on Broussard’s source who says a deal is eminent this week or possibly early next week.

What may be a surprise is how retired player, former Suns GM and current TNT sideline broadcaster Steve Kerr has been roped into the New York proceedings when both Isola and Marc Berman of the New York Post intimated that Jackson might hire the inexperienced Kerr to coach the team. Neither Kerr nor Jackson have any experience in their possible new roles: coaching in Kerr’s case and the front office in Jackson’s case.

Kerr, for his part, downplayed the rumors when he spoke with and the Knicks Blog while in town for CBS Sports and TNT’s coverage of the NCAA Tournament:

“Yeah, I’ve said that publicly many times but, I’m not going to even go down that path for obvious reasons.

“I think people just connected the dots. I think Bill Simmons said something the other day on the post-game show [on ABC’s coverage of the Bulls-Heat game] that kind of stirred the pot and all of a sudden I show up in New York for NCAA Media Day. It’s total speculation at this point.

“Well, again, because I’ve been thrown into the mix, I don’t want to be quoted on all that stuff. It’s sort of unsavory in a lot of ways for me because there are people’s jobs at stake.”

It gets even better from there, since Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, similar to our reaction, believes a Jackson-Dolan pairing can only end in a nightmare divorce.

There’s more, including a humorous and sage dismissal of the whole Jackson fiasco, so click the next page…

To recap, the Knicks may or may not be close to signing Phil Jackson as their new president of basketball operations. If they do, they may or may not fire Steve Mills as their ostensible GM. Once hired, Jackson may or may not offer the head coaching position to Steve Kerr, and the future of Carmelo Anthony — who will become a free agent this summer — will be thrust into even more doubt.

Certainly the most humorous and possibly most adroit reaction to all the kerfuffle over the Knicks’ courtship of Jackson, has to be Seth Rosenthal’s piece over at the excellent Posting and Toasting SB Nation blog:

If I may: The Knicks are in a desert. The Knicks have a bottle of water. They dump the water in the sand because fuck the water. They become thirsty. Luckily, there is an oasis with more water. But fuck the water. The Knicks insist on having champagne airlifted in from thousands of miles away even though champagne is extremely expensive and might not last the trip intact and might make them drunk and disoriented and doesn’t necessarily even quench thirst. This is how this feels to me. Any other team drinks water when it’s thirsty. The Knicks won’t do that. They refuse to behave like a normal team.


History suggests Phil Jackson is gonna flake on the Knicks to go join the Lakers or just stay home and laugh and laugh. That’s what he always does. And I hope he does it again, because all of this smells like an over-elaborate solution to a simple problem the Knicks don’t even understand. I see no reason to believe Jackson can overpower Dolan, and even if he could, I see no reason to believe he’d be good at a job he’s never done.

I suppose I’ve just wasted a bunch of words. They’re the same old words, and I’ll say them again. All these thoughts are futile as long as Dolan’s in charge, but damn, man, it doesn’t have to be like this. The goal, the process, and the execution all look warped when they really don’t have to, and it’s frustrating. You’re allowed to behave like a normal team, Knicks. You can just drink the water. It works.

Jackson has never been in the front office before. Sure, he’s got 11 titles as a coach and two as a player for the Knicks, but he’s never sat where executives have and taken the blame when things have gone wrong with player development, trades etc. Jackson is smart and zen and whatnot, but if Masai Ujiri calls him up and wants to flip Amir Johnson for Tyson Chandler*, what does he do?

Jackson is very smart, and very at peace with himself and his life on the west coast, but he’s also been trying to get into the front office game for a while now, with nothing to show for it except his consultancy for Pistons owner Tom Gores on the hiring of now-fired coach Maurice Cheeks. Hiring Kerr might work, but history tells us the odds are stacked against first time coaches, and it’ll be hard for someone with zero coaching experience to win the respect of a clown like J.R. Smith and a superstar like Anthony.

But wouldn’t the hiring of Kerr be just the sort of outside-the-box thinking Jackson is best known for? As Seth notes in that hysterical late-night exploration of the Jackson mess, we’re all talking about a guy who hasn’t even publicly acknowledged he’s interested in working for the Knicks possibly hiring someone to coach the Knicks when the Knicks already have a coach.

Plus, the Knicks have now won four in a row and might catch the No. 8 seed in the East. What a weird, up-and-down (but mostly down) season for the Knicks. It’s so New York.

*We’re aware the contracts don’t match, but it’s a hypothetical, so settle down. Also we love Amir Johnson, so a straight-up flop isn’t as crazy as it might sound.

Will Phil Jackson accept an offer to control the Knicks’ front office?

Follow Spencer on Twitter at @SpencerTyrel.

Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.

Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.