Add another item to the list of life's certainties: death, taxes and Phil Jackson coaching rumors.
As disseminated by the Detroit Pistons' own website (via Ken Berger of CBSSports.com), the Zen Master is back in the NBA, if only—like most infomercial offers—for a limited time, to assist the Motor City's latest coaching search.
According to Ken Berger, the Pistons have already contacted Houston Rockets assistant Kelvin Sampson and former Seattle SuperSonics and Portland Trail Blazers head coach Nate McMillan about filling the vacancy left behind by Lawrence Frank, who was fired after another dismal season in Detroit. Predictably enough, the introduction of PJax into the process has brought Brian Shaw, Frank Vogel's top assistant with the Indiana Pacers and a Jackson protege, to the fore.
Though the proverbial elephant in the room remains: If Phil is going to pick the next head coach of the Pistons, what's to keep him from picking himself?
Quite a number of things, actually.
First of all, the situation in Detroit isn't exactly conducive to the sort of winning to which Jackson had become accustomed. The Pistons are fresh off a 29-53 campaign and haven't so much as sniffed the postseason since 2009.
Not that the cupboard is anything close to bare. General manager Joe Dumars has assembled an intriguing collection of talent, with Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Brandon Knight constituting the core for the future.
But that group would be lucky to do laundry for Phil's first squads with the Chicago Bulls (Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant) and the Los Angeles Lakers (Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Glen Rice)—and even that's putting it kindly. Jackson won a title in his second year with those Bulls and in his first with those Lakers. Heck, the team Jackson coached in his second go-round in L.A. (Kobe, Lamar Odom, Smush Parker) would probably beat the pants off the Pistons of today.
Then again, if Jackson thought the Pistons were just two years away from challenging for a title, as the 2005-06 Lakers were, then the story might well be a different one. Thing is, though, Detroit would need to stumble upon the basketball equivalent of Fort Knox—be it via the NBA draft, a blockbuster trade or a major free-agent signing—to get to that point. The last of those three might be more feasible with Phil in the mix.
But can the Pistons really afford to pay basketball's favorite goose to pop out another golden egg? Can they throw enough money at Jackson to get him to so much as consider serving as a long-term draw for high-profile free agents?
The last time Jackson was seen stalking the sidelines, he drew an annual salary of approximately $11 million (per Forbes). That's nearly triple what Detroit will pay Lawrence Frank not to coach next season (per Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk).
Frankly, that's a pretty penny for any team to pay its coach, especially when said team most recently ranked 28th in home attendance (total and average) and dead-last in attendance percentage, according to ESPN. Pistons owner Tom Gores may be chummy with the Zen Master, but it's not as though he's swimming in revenue right now.
But, for the sake of argument, let's say Gores is ready, willing and able to pony up for the most successful coach in NBA history. Let's say, too, that Phil had faith in the Pistons' personnel.
The question then becomes, would Jackson want to live in Detroit? Would he want to lead an organization with which he shared in an overall mutual antagonism during his days with the Bulls and the Lakers? Would he want to spend so much of his time in a city known for cold weather, cars and more cold weather? Would he want to work in a place to which Cleveland turns for a boost of confidence?
And would he want all of this, when he could just as easily spend the rest of his days in sunny Southern California, hanging out with his fiance (and Lakers governor) Jeanie Buss?
Tough choice, I know. Then again, it's entirely possible that Phil's fire is still burning, that he wants to scale another mountain, despite his age (67) and his recent health problems.
Chances are, though, that Phil's had his fill with coaching, and that he won't return to the NBA in any sort of full-time role unless it suits his wants and needs perfectly. Perhaps that's in a Pat Riley-like front-office role, with the Toronto Raptors soon or, maybe, with the Lakers down the line.
Coaching is a whole different animal, one for which the right pieces would have to be in place to coax an aging legend like Jackson out of his comfy chair. The Pistons can dream all they want about Phil crossing over to their side, since they're bringing him so close to the coaching search to begin with.
But, like death and taxes, the latest musings about Phil's future figure to be chalked up to "business as usual," without any monumental shift of which to speak.
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