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Ball Don't Lie

Detroit Pistons bring in Phil Jackson to help find their next head coach

Dan Devine
Ball Don't Lie

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Phil Jackson's back. Sort of. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Hey, everybody: Phil Jackson's back in the NBA! Well, sort of.

Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores announced Thursday that he's tapped Jackson, the legendary head coach who won 11 championships on the sidelines with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers, to serve in "an advisory capacity" to help find the Pistons' next head coach. The team fired former bench boss Lawrence Frank two weeks ago following consecutive disappointing seasons that saw Detroit go 54-94, fail to consistently show meaningful improvement and never really sniff postseason contention.

The Pistons are looking for something better from their next hire, and billionaire businessman Gores figured the team's search for coaching talent might benefit from the input of arguably the greatest coach in NBA history. From Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:

“Phil Jackson is a friend and one of the best minds in the business,” Gores said. “We are thrilled to have him as an adviser as we make some very important decisions for this franchise. Joe [Dumars] and I discussed this and he and I are in full agreement that this is a great opportunity.” [...]

“Phil Jackson and Tom Gores are friends,” said Mark Barnhill, a partner in Platinum Equity, Gores’ California-based private equity firm. “Based on that relationship, Phil has agreed to provide advice and counsel on the coaching search and immediate basketball needs. He will be in Detroit next week as a resource to Joe Dumars, who is leading the search.

It's nice to have friends. Especially friends with enough rings to make typing troublesome.

Reports circulated last week that Jackson is "itching" to return to the NBA in a front-office role that allowed him to shape an organization's development from the ground up, with the Toronto Raptors reportedly eager to hand him the keys to the franchise in an arrangement that some thought might spell the end of Bryan Colangelo's tenure as the Raptors' top executive.

Given that, you'd figure Thursday's announcement might have Dumars, the Pistons' current president of basketball operations, feeling a bit hot under the collar, especially considering the advancing idea that Dumars' decisions in free agency merit as much blame for the Pistons' recent downward spiral as anything Frank or predecessors Michael Curry and John Kuester cooked up. For what it's worth, though, Dumars said in the team's statement that he and Gores "discussed using a consultant as part of our decision-making process in our search for a head coach" together, and both felt Jackson would be "a great resource to use.”

Though Jackson's recent "itch" and subsequent entrance into the Pistons' fold naturally has us wondering whether he'll eventually take the reins, Gores spokesman Barnhill "stressed that the move is short-term," according to Vincent Ellis of the Detroit Free Press, and league sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne that the advisory role "does not foreclose any options" should Jackson continue to seek a full-time front-office gig elsewhere in the NBA. So you might not be in the clear just yet, Mr. Colangelo. (ESPN also reports that Jackson's role will be "unpaid.")

With Jackson's input sought, one suspects that Indiana Pacers associate head coach Brian Shaw will have the inside track on the Detroit job. Shaw played for Jackson with the Lakers from 1999 through 2003, then joined him as an assistant in 2004 and remained for Phil's full post-Rudy Tomjanovich second tenure in L.A. from 2005 through 2011 before being somewhat unceremoniously dumped when Lakers executive vice president Jim Buss cleaned house after Jackson's exit following the 2011 season.

Shaw's been a hot name in NBA coaching circles for the past several seasons, and reportedly turned down a shot to lead the Charlotte Bobcats because he wants to "have a chance" to succeed when his turn at the big chair comes up. With his mentor having Gores' ear, the young frontcourt pairing of Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond (as well as potentially intriguing yet thus-far underdeveloped point guard Brandon Knight) in the cupboard, and gobs of cap space about to open up for roster-reshaping additions, it seems reasonable that Shaw would find this opportunity a bit more appetizing.

That said, Shaw's not the only coach to whom the Pistons have been connected. They've already interviewed former Seattle SuperSonics and Portland Trail Blazers head coach Nate McMillan and Phoenix Suns interim coach Lindsey Hunter, and they've also reportedly expressed interest in Houston Rockets assistant Kelvin Sampson, whom Yahoo! Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski reports is also considered one of the top candidates for the Milwaukee Bucks' coaching vacancy.

And while Jackson's mere presence in the Pistons organization is likely to stoke some fans' interest in the Zen Master himself returning to the bench, that seems like a long shot. Jackson has said multiple times this season that he has no intention of coming back to coach and reiterated that stance in a recent interview with Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle. So lick your chops at the idea of Monroe using his passing gifts to facilitate in the Triangle offense all you'd like, Pistons fans — just be prepared for the possibility that it'll be someone other than Phil himself showing him how to do it.

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