I want to go to bed, but this Phil Jackson stuff has me too irritated, so let's talk. Here are the kinds of things that went up on the internet Monday night from the local beat reporters: Berman and Isola. Both guys are parroting the speculation about Jackson potentially hiring Steve Kerr to coach the Knicks if he joins the front office. Berman's got Charley Rosen giving him quotes about Jackson hating New York's cold weather. Isola has anonymous sources telling him this all started with the Knicks going behind Mike Woodson's back to request Jackson's services as head coach, then continued with James Dolan personally undercutting Mills to pursue Jackson as an executive after he turned down coaching. Isola throws out a potential salary figure of $12 million a year.
Now let's back way, way up. First understand that there is a normal cycle to these things:
1. Be bad.
2. Fire the GM or coach (or both) mid-season or at season's end, creating a job opening.
3. In the offseason, comb your own staff and the rest of the league for candidates and conduct interviews.
4. Hire the best candidate. Sometimes, this is a person with experience in a position identical to the one being offered. Often, it's someone who's been working as an assistant, ready to move from apprentice to boss.
5. Be good until you get bad again.
The Knicks are above this tidy process. This is how the present Knicks' cycle is going:
1. Be good.
2. Fire the GM right before training camp, but don't create a job opening or conduct a search. Just hire an old team executive with no basketball ops experience to replace him.
3. Be bad.
4. In the middle of the season, endeavor to replace or at least dislodge the GM and, by proxy, the coach before they've even been fired/demoted.
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.
If they hire Phil Jackson, they will not be filling a job opening, they will be creating a job opening with which to subsume Phil Jackson, who does not necessarily fit the job opening created just for him. He is only perceived to fit because he is Phil Jackson. And "because he is Phil Jackson" really seems to be the guiding principle here. It's a "pro" of indeterminate size and shape sitting across from a clear list of cons. He has no front office experience. When I first considered this whole thing, I figured Jackson must have done some front office-y things somewhere down the line, but no, he made moves for the Albany Patroons of the CBA in the '80s (they have a banner hanging for him at the Times Union Center!) and consulted on the Pistons' ill-fated hiring of Maurice Cheeks this past offseason. He is a novice. His experience is as a mediocre player, then as the extremely successful coach of some extremely talented rosters with a rigid and somewhat arcane system, last active in 2011. If Jackson knows anything about the CBA, advanced statistics, new scouting technologies, and so forth, he picked it up in his free time. Dozens of other candidates are more qualified, but they're not Phil Jackson.
So how much would Phil Jackson being Phil Jackson matter? On one hand, there is this vague notion of a "winning culture." I look at a team with a recent history of bleeding assets in trades, letting agency/familial influence outweigh talent and fit in roster decisions, and enabling a coach despite mounting evidence that he sucks...and I can see how there's room for the culture to shift toward winning. That's basic, though, even if it doesn't come naturally to the Knicks. With someone like Jackson, "winning culture" really refers to an aura-- a majestic way of being that attracts the good and overrides the bad. Phil Jackson has done lots of Winning, so he is Winning. Forget the context, forget that it was a completely different job under completely different circumstances. He is Winning, so if you put him in your thing, then he'll make your thing do Winning.
Which...I dunno, maybe. I've seen scant proof that a majestic aura trumps a sound plan, but maybe that's just because I wasn't looking at Phil Jackson. But then there's the kickback of the aura-- this absurd mythos around Jackson that's already seeping into reports before the guy's signed a contract or even said a word to anyone. All these peripheral Jackson acolytes are popping up to tell us about the man's feelings, his opinions, his health, his legacy, his relationship with his girlfriend, his favorite types of weather. Today I read several quotes from people speculating on the viability of a coach who has not yet been hired to replace a coach who has not yet been fired by an executive who has not yet been hired for a job opening that isn't clearly defined.
Please realize that this is unusual and kind of fucking insane. The media bears some responsibility, since they're the ones broadcasting these batshit nesting dolls of speculation, but it's also on Jackson and his aura. This is what happens with him. It's happened in previous rumor cycles about him coaching the Knicks, and it's happened in each of his dalliances with the Lakers. Because he is Winning, Jackson now enjoys the privilege of sitting somewhere in silence while folks report on the latest contents of his stools. That's the Phil Jackson Knicks fans know. That's not even the Phil Jackson who writes whole shit-talking books about his professional experiences, which is a whole other level of Jackson's aura that is just acceptable because he is Winning.
Does a single word of the above sound like it would flourish in New York? Does that sound like it would work under James Dolan, who prefers that his executives shut up forever and stand down when he decides to meddle? Which side gives? Would Jackson's massive presence shrink to fit beneath his employer? Or is Jackson's Winning aura enough to subdue defining characteristics of Dolan's personality as an owner? I don't need high-ranking league officials to tell me that's really hard to imagine.
And again, even if Dolan completely changed his ways and ceded control to this demigod presence, said demigod presence would be a rookie. He's unqualified and not exactly at a learning age. And if all that speculation is to be trusted, the old rookie might be inclined to hire cronies instead of following the normal progression described above or relying on the deep support team already in place. That is if he's in the position to hire people. Which he might not be? Because he doesn't even want to come to New York City or put in all that work? But he does want full control? But he probably can't have it? So why is he even interested? Is he even interested?
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.