The news barely skimmed NBA circles early on Friday, because the hiring of former Anschutz Entertainment Group President and CEO Tim Leiweke to run Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment seemed to only count toward NHL matters. MLSE owns the Toronto Raptors, to be sure, but for a while there, the team appeared pretty ensconced moving forward after allowing current president Bryan Colangelo to swing a massive deal for forward Rudy Gay in February.
Now there are whispers that are whispering back at the whispers that could place Phil Jackson in Colangelo’s chair, taking control of a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2008. ESPN’s Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne came through with the report on Friday:
Sources told ESPN.com this week that the Raptors have interest in talking with Jackson about the Pat Riley-style role he craves in charge of a team's basketball operations. ESPN.com reported last week that Jackson, after nearly two seasons in retirement, is "itching" to return to the NBA next season, but preferably in a role similar to Riley's in Miami that allows him to oversee both the basketball department and the coaching staff, or perhaps as a high-level consultant like Jerry West in Golden State.
Leiweke is a major player [in] the sports industry and Jackson is all-too-familiar with his work in Los Angeles, where he helped get the Staples Center built for the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers, as well as the Kings of the NHL. Leiweke also has a longstanding, productive relationship with Jackson's fiance, Lakers executive Jeanie Buss.
It is understood that Colangelo will have to make a presentation to the Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment board that owns the Raptors in coming days in hopes of getting his option picked up. Colangelo was adamant Monday that Casey will stay on as coach if he stays, while MLSE chief operating officer Tim Anselmi told the National Post's Bruce Arthur that the Colangelo decision would be made "with patience."
Colangelo has been a disappointment as a Raptors executive. He inherited star forward Chris Bosh upon taking the job in 2005, but proceeded to whiff on both choosing Andrea Bargnani first overall in the 2006 draft (not the most damning move, as several other executives would have done the same) and, more importantly, re-signing Bargnani to a terrible contract that no other suitor was offering a few months later.
The former Suns general manager then went on to compound that mistake by adding several middling and similar talents on the wing, leading up to the trade for Gay that will saddle the Raptors with a roster that will sidle up to the luxury tax in 2013-14 even if the team decides to use the amnesty clause and waive forward Linas Kleiza this summer. The Raptors went 17-18 with Gay in the lineup following the deal, which sent promising forward Ed Davis and guard Jose Calderon’s expiring contract away, while the Memphis Grizzlies (Gay’s former team) finished the season on a 27-11 tear.
Jackson, as we talked about last week, would hardly be counted on to stay up all night going over game tape. It’s more than likely he’s far from capable when it comes to understanding the ins and outs of the NBA’s newest Collective Bargaining Agreement (which was put in place six months after Jackson and the Los Angeles Lakers parted ways in 2011), and he’s shown an aversion to the sorts of advanced statistics that have helped other teams get out of the salted crops their predecessors left them.
If Leiweke did hit a home run and successful court Jackson, though, Phil wouldn’t need many trips to NBA.com’s stat tool to recognize that Colangelo has stacked the roster with middling, overpaid and inefficient players who don’t contribute much defensively.
As Stein and Shelburne noted, though, this is all in the long-shot phase, currently. If the NBA does allow for the Sacramento Kings to relocate to Seattle, Jackson would be at the top of the new ownership’s list of candidates for overall front-office el jefe. The Brooklyn Nets would no doubt love to make a splash and gauge Jackson’s interest in coaching again with a potential eight-figure offer, and even though the Lakers are still paying two coaches in Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni, and Jackson’s relationship with front office boss Jim Buss is reportedly strained … there’s still a chance. There are no second acts in American life, but Los Angeles doesn’t usually count in that regard.
Would Jackson take to Canadian life? That aspect wouldn’t seem to factor much into things, though pointing out that Jackson spends most of his time in his offseason home in Montana would be missing the point. Toronto is one of the world’s more active, bustling cities; and though the metropolis is slick and streamlined, in a way that could work against the mellow mood of the Malibu and Montana-dwelling Jackson.
It’s an interesting rumor. Whatever decision Leiweke goes with, though, understand that either the current or former person in charge of the Raptors roster is in for tough, tough gig.