By Jason Keidel
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So it is written. So it is done.
But have the Knicks really done anything?
By dint of his divine career, the Zen Master’s aura will cure the diseased Knickerbockers. It seems so simple you wonder why Jim Dolan didn’t do this sooner.
But there are myriad contradictions to the move. At first, Phil Jackson may or may not coach, and if he did it would only be for 41 home games, which is beyond absurd. Then he may run the club from California or Montana, perhaps texting a trade from some wild salmon stream or between waves rolling in from the Pacific Ocean.
This is quintessentially Knickerbockers. Toss a big name at a problem. For all his hardwood hardware, Jackson is a relative fledgeling at running a franchise. I almost compared this to NFL teams hiring Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban, but at least they were coaches in college and were only partly out of their element.
The Knicks couldn’t even do this right. First, Dolan sends Steve Mills to the West Coast to recruit Jackson, the implication being that Mills would be atop Jackson on the corporate totem pole, which is laughable. Once Dolan finally realized that the man with 13 rings doesn’t answer to Dolan’s hand-picked bureaucrat, Dolan himself flew westward and made an offer Jackson couldn’t refuse.
And while being an executive isn’t quite as taxing as coaching, Jackson has infinitely more responsibilities, which has to be a burden on his already brittle body. He’s had two hip replacements, bad knees, a bad back, and he’s 18 months from his 70th birthday.
Jerry West was just 44 when he took over the Lakers. Pat Riley was just 51 when he left the Knicks to overhaul the Heat. Even the more sedentary positions are a relatively young man’s game.
Will he scour the globe to find a John Starks? Will he dive into the D-League to pluck a Jeremy Lin? Will he hop on planes to scout, to sign free agents, like the way West stalked Shaquille O’Neal?
The Knicks are hardly a move or two from the top, and Jackson is used to taking the wheel of a luxury car, tweaking it, and cruising to the top. He’s never had to do an entire makeover on a jalopy like the Knicks, who, even if they lose Carmelo Anthony, will STILL be over the salary cap next season.
There’s an overwhelming sense of nostalgia over this move. New Yorkers over, say 55, are strolling down Seventh Avenue with these romantic thought bubbles popping over their heads — grainy, black-and-white replays of the halcyon years, when Jackson was a scrappy, bearded, awkward forward for Red Holtzman.
But lost in the glorious montage of memories is the fact that Jackson has never cut, traded, or drafted a player, nor has he hired or fired a coach or general manager. Yes, Jackson has more rings than fingers and two toes. But all of Jackson’s designs have been drawn on a chalkboard, not a corporate tree.
Even doing what’s most natural to him, coaching, Jackson admits he can only give you 41 games, half a season of home games. But now he’s going to work 12 months a year to build this burning franchise up from the ashes?
There will be an extensive honeymoon period just because he’s Phil Jackson, the most bejeweled name on the MSG marquee since Riley ran the Knicks deep into the NBA Finals, falling a few Starks jumpers from a title.
There will an overwhelmingly amorous sense that Jackson has come home, the circle of his hardwood life clicking closed. He is finishing his final job, ordained by the basketball gods. If anyone can remold this moribund franchise, it will be their favorite son, who learned his craft under Holzman and then leapfrogged Red Auerbach. We will be blinded by his bling, the aggregate glitter of 13 rings. None of which were bagged by President Jackson. It was just Coach Jackson.
To the “anything is better than what we have now” crowd, you’re right. Anything short of Isiah Thomas redux is a profound improvement. But that logic doesn’t justify this move, which is profoundly illogical.
Much has happened since Jackson and the Knicks won a title in 1973. New York has changed, mostly for the worse. And the Knicks have surely changed, entirely for the worse. And it will take a lot more more than Jackson’s good vibes to get back to the glory days.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel
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