By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) Even if Phil Jackson doesn’t have another NBA title in five years, at least he’ll have $60 million.
That has to be the rationale for leaving his idyllic life on the beach, where he could cash checks for speaking and consulting and enjoy his sun-splashed semi-retirement on a lounge chair next to his fiancée. This is the same guy who limped off the stage in 2011 citing health concerns and has undergone five recent surgeries to correct problems with his knee, hip and back.
But a big bag of money and the chance to recapture the faded glory of a heritage franchise in the biggest market can apparently cure what ails you.
Jackson was courted glamorously by Knicks owner James Dolan, who was helped by music-industry bigwig Irving Azoff, with the process culminating in yesterday’s surreal ceremony giving him control of basketball operations – a public coronation and marketing roadshow worthy of such proximity to Broadway. It was a bizarre day of looking simultaneously backward and forward, as video loops of Jackson’s ancient playing days juxtaposed his current appearance. Stories of Bulls glory only served to remind us how long ago that actually was – 16 years since the last championship – and mentions of the Lakers raised fair questions about his desire to continue to spend time in California with his children and grandchildren, even as he undertakes the unenviable task of rebuilding a broken team in New York.
Dolan says he’ll get out of the way, but he’s said that before. Anybody who believes him this time should talk to Donnie Walsh, who received the same promise. Dolan can’t help himself, and Jackson is asking for trouble if he plans on the frequent bi-coastal commute. The best reason to be in the office all the time is to make sure Dolan’s not, and one easily can envision familiar conflicts as Jackson’s appointed proxies stake out territory to keep Dolan and his at bay.
Jackson is a coach. Despite his reaching insistence yesterday that he has been involved in player personnel decisions, he’s a rookie executive jumping into a changed game that’s accelerating into data-driven scouting, analytical evaluations and objective metrics. Handing out books for a road trip or doing yoga after practice isn’t going to cut it.
And this situation is a mess that needs all the right decisions and more than a little luck just to get back to competence, let alone contention. One long-time NBA source who spoke to WSCR on the condition of anonymity called the Knicks “by far the most f—ed-up franchise I have ever seen, from top to bottom,” citing every level, from Dolan down through the front office and the roster.
If rumors prove true that Jackson plans to install Steve Kerr on the bench, that means a doubling down on inexperience, with a team president who has never held such responsibility bypassing nominal general manager Steve Mills to hire a coach who has never coached.
Next year is going to be particularly ugly no matter what, and everybody knows it. If Carmelo Anthony stays to be the centerpiece, it will still be many long months and a pile of losses before the personnel can be altered radically enough to provide hope for the new direction promised yesterday by the mere association with Jackson’s fabulousness.
Patience will be needed if there is to be a successful overhaul, and Dolan is not a patient man. Noted for wigging out at games to the point that he demands the dance team stop dancing (in their uniforms that he insisted on helping design) and leaving his courtside seat to chase Mills down a hallway so he can dress him down, Dolan in unlikely to do quite the same to Jackson, so he’ll express himself more insidiously.
There will be occasions in which Jackson finds himself on the long flight leaving his grandkids, departing LAX for the snowy cold of LaGuardia, endlessly contorting his deteriorating body in first class in a futile attempt at comfort, and wondering why, again, he’s doing this.
He’ll have to really love the money.