Could Phil Jackson be returning to New York? (Getty Images)
Buried at the bottom of a seemingly random notes column penned by the respected NBA columnist that covers a team that isn't making the playoffs this year is a note about the NBA's most famous potential coach possibly joining the team in the league's biggest market. Something to dismiss? That's your call, but after working your way through the Racine Journal-Times Gary Woelfel's tidbits about Milwaukee Bucks guard Beno Udrih contract option and Carlos Delfino's groin injury, you get to read this bit about former Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson possibly returning to the team that drafted him in 1966:
If the New York Knicks don't advance beyond the first round of the playoffs, I'm hearing they'll make a major — repeat, major — push to lure legendary coach Phil Jackson out of retirement.
With money being no object, the scuttlebutt is the Knicks brass may offer the "Zen Master" a four-year, $50 million deal.
That's major money for a coach with 11 NBA championships as led from the sideline, not including two rings won as a player in New York. The problems behind this report, though, are myriad.
Not because of the source, Woelfel hasn't been one to make things up in my time following his work. But there's a difference between "hearing" how the Knicks "may offer" Jackson a deal, and the Knicks actually following through on such a maneuver. Much less Jackson actually taking the deal.
Jackson has been in this situation before, rumored to be heading to New York both in 1999 and 2005. Both times he chose to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers, and both times he was correct in doing so. Further complicating things is Jackson's love for all things Western-y — he splits time between California and Montana, he's still dating Jeanie Buss (daughter of Lakers owner Jerry Buss), and though the Knicks just committed to the well-respected Glen Grunwald as GM, even over $12 million a year might not be enough for Jackson to overcome what is probably a pretty strong distaste for New York owner James Dolan.
And though the Knicks have been steadily improving defensively all season, this is not a roster built for his preferred triangle offense. And, regrettably, this would be the first time Jackson takes on a head coaching role without retired triangle guru Tex Winter at his side, calling out cuts and reactions. Toss in Jackson's age (67, by opening night next season) and recent knee surgery, and it would probably take a whole lot of money (like, say, about $50 million spread out over four years) for Phil to return.
Of course, that's just under the assumption that he's offered the gig to begin with.
Woelfel offers a "first round" caveat, and while the Knicks will have a solid enough chance at defeating the defending conference champion Miami Heat in the opening stanza once the playoffs start this weekend, it's important to note that the team is 16-6 under current interim coach Mike Woodson, the players are working extremely hard under the team's current boss (though that's as unfortunate a reflection on the players' professionalism than it is a reflection on Woodson's talents), and the squad's defense has jumped considerably in the last five weeks. From 10th in the NBA in defense to fifth overall in just 22 games, a staggering jump in such a short amount of time.
Woodson, as well he should, pointed out to Newsday on Tuesday that he "would love to be back" to the team that hasn't made a contract commitment to him. And Knicks stars Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire echoed the sentiment:
"I would love to see him around here past this year," Anthony said. "Just to see what he's brought to our team, the confidence that he's instilled into everybody, the belief that he has in everybody. Just his coaching style, the way he's coached, kind of a hard-nosed coach. Holds everybody accountable out there, saying that everybody is responsible for their own actions. I would love to see him back here."
When asked if he would be willing to go to management and tell them what he thinks, Anthony said: "I'm pretty sure they're hearing me right now. Like I said, I would love to see him around here . . . "
Another franchise cornerstone, Amar'e Stoudemire, supports Woodson coming back, too. "Coach Woodson has done a great job for us," Stoudemire said. "He's done a phenomenal, phenomenal job. I love his attitude. I love his coaching style. It would be nice."
Not exactly a team begging for a coaching switch, we'd guess. Though the playoffs, and resultant bad taste of a poorly executed postseason exit, can change that.
For now, there are too many variables to even consider starting the guesswork that leads to the paperwork. Though we do appreciate Woelfel providing us with some scuttle.
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