Why Would Phil Jackson Want to Run Dysfunctional New York Knicks Franchise?

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistMarch 9, 2014

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 09:  NBA coaching legend Phil Jackson (L) and actor John Lithgow consult their programs before the game between the Arizona Wildcats and the UCLA Bruins at Pauley Pavilion on January 9, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Many of us have one question for you, Phil Jackson, keeper of NBA championship rings and master of Zen: Why?

Jackson is "leaning toward taking a front-office job" with the progressively dysfunctional New York Knicks, according to ESPN.com, and we want—nay, need—to know why.

We know why the Knicks are here, placing themselves at the mercy of the man who boasts 13 NBA championships, 11 of which came as a head coach and two of which came as a member of the New York-based franchise currently seeking his basketball expertise.

The Knicks have the second-highest payroll in the league, yet they're 16 games under .500 and chasing a playoff berth while on life support. They fired general manager Glen Grunwald after he assembled a 54-win team in 2012-13 in favor of the previously excommunicated Steve Mills. And they are owned by the autocratic, always meddling James Dolan.

So, yes, we know why the Knicks are here. They're a collective mess in need of cleaning, complete with extensive bleaching and the exorcising of intramural demons created and endorsed by those in power.

But why is Jackson here, contemplating and potentially on the verge of accepting their offer?

Why would Jackson voluntarily attach himself to the most spendthrift of NBA franchises? Why would he put his legacy on the line for a Knicks team that has yet to prove it can even give superstar Carmelo Anthony, who is looking for every reason to stay, any non-financially driven reason not to leave?

Why would Jackson, the spire of charisma and stability, surrender his services to the most abrupt and infirm of NBA organizations?

For the question-asking aficionados out there, Bleacher Report's Zach Buckley poses some more queries worthy of consideration:

Why would Jackson willingly throw himself into the center of the league's worst tire fire? Why would he risk staining his legendary career by exposing himself to the chaos in which delusional Knicks owner James Dolan operates? Why are the Knicks, in need of surgical repair, still searching for a quick-fix bandage?

Why, Phil? For the sake of all things sensible and worthy of your Midas touch, why?

Restless and Reckless?

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

While Jackson's reasoning clearly goes beyond the blase, blase retirement lifestyle, the quiet and relaxation has likely made him restless. 

Jackson has been positioning himself for an NBA return for quite some time, having spent the last two years or so linked to a variety of front office positions. By all appearances—the Seattle SuperSonics debacle notwithstanding—he hasn't been offered an opportunity similar to the one New York is dangling. Not in an official capacity, at least.

If he had, he wouldn't be available now.

A source also told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne that Jackson is "ready to go back to work." Not on the sidelines, mind you. Coaching inquiries are made regularly. Whenever one coach is dismissed, Jackson appears to be contacted as sort of a rite of passage, like no NBA team will hire a new head honcho until he makes it clear he's done coaching.

New York's current offer was even preceded by a coaching job offer, according to the New York Daily News' Frank Isola, which he rebuffed.

Out of a job and looking for particular work, Jackson is going to be enticed by any offer that meets his requirements. He might even feel obligated—like he has something to prove.

Legendary coaches with more rings than fingers shouldn't have anything to prove, but Jackson could. He's been in the market for a front office job similar to the one Pat Riley has for the Miami Heat for a while now, yet he's still linked to coaching conjecture, having failed to secure an identical opportunity.

AUBURN HILLS - JUNE 13:  Mo Cheeks is introduced as the new Detroit Pistons Head Coach on June 13, 2013 at Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photog
Allen Einstein/Getty Images

Jackson's small, nigh-unofficial jaunts into NBA management haven't been met with blazing success, either.

Last summer, Jackson advised the Detroit Pistons during their coaching search, a quest that culminated in the hiring of Mo Cheeks, who lasted all of 50 games. During an interview with USA Today's Sam Amick, he was quick to distance himself from the decision, but he did lament the guidance he's given owner Tom Gores, saying, "So far, my advice hasn't been too great."

Maybe the coach with a near-flawless track record doesn't want a blemish on his resume, even one as ostensibly minor as the Detroit-related blotch.

Or maybe Jackson is prepared to ignore his better judgment for the glitz and glam and potential immortality that New York promises.

Chasing Immortality?

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 21:  (C) Former Los Angeles Lakers head coach Pat Riley, (top) former head coach Phil Jackson and (R) Earvin 'Magic' Johnson are seen before the start of the memorial service for Los Angeles Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss at the No
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Jackson, of all people, knows the stakes. He knows New York. He knows the Knicks. He saw how Dolan and the Knicks dismissed Grunwald without a semblance of regret or logical explanation. He saw how poorly Donnie Walsh aged during his productive yet perpetually undermined time at the helm.

"(Walsh’s) mandate is clear—do whatever is necessary to turn this team around," Dolan said in 2008, per the New York Daily News' Mike Lupica.

He knows how that turned out, too. 

The Knicks waxed transparency and communication with Walsh. Clarity and the refusal to assume the role of Dolan's lead puppet, however, is what chased him out of town.

In came Grunwald, who was routinely muzzled by the organization. That was to change under Mills.

"I think we sort of understand that we need to be able to talk about the team, talk about the things we’re doing to connect with the fans, connect with the public," Mills opined in October, per The New York Times' Scott Cacciola. "I’m comfortable with it, and Jim’s given me the flexibility to do this."

It's been four months since Mills addressed the public. And now it appears his primary mission has digressed into something far more baffling: Ushering in his replacement.

Jackson knows this. All of it. He knows, as Lupica writes, "there really is nothing less autonomous than autonomy bestowed on you by Dolan."

Still, Jackson is here, leaving us all to assume he's prepared to look the other way and sync up with the woefully expensive and self-destructive Knicks. Only one thing can incite that kind of blissful ignorance: eternal glory.

The Knicks haven't won an NBA title since 1973, when Jackson himself was on the team. They're going on 41 years of lavishly ringless basketball. The chance to end that drought as a member of the front office solidifies Jackson's legacy in ways his 13 other championships cannot.

Conquering Dolan would be Jackson's greatest triumph yet.
Conquering Dolan would be Jackson's greatest triumph yet.David Dow/Getty Images

What's been the biggest knock on Jackson since he entered the coaching side of basketball?

Entitlement. He inherited championship-caliber teams and coached them to titles they were supposed to play for. The Zen Master has never helped build something from the ground up. Not like this.

Conquering Dolan would be Jackson's greatest triumph.

For all their plans of grandeur and free-agency salvation, the Knicks are a broken team, maimed by the very people who are supposed to fortify their future. If Jackson comes in and slowly, surely transforms them into a semi-functional, title-contending organization, he claims an accolade rivaled only by his trio of three-peats with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers.

Why, Phil?

NEW YORK, NY - April 5: Phil Jackson and Spike Lee share a laugh before the game between the New York Knicks and the Milwaukee Bucks on April 5, 2013 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

To some—to many, actually—the Knicks are a project beyond rescuing.

People see a despotic front office, tyrannical owner, bastilled media policies and an improperly assembled product nowhere near shedding a decades-long stigma that has turned a once-storied franchise into a never-ending tale of ruin and self-spawned disaster.

Perhaps Jackson sees something different.

With the ability to place more than a dozen rings in front of prospective free agents and the (potentially empty) promise of a self-governing business model, Jackson may see a diseased franchise he can cure.

That has to be it. It just has to be. If it's not, it doesn't make sense. Jackson himself would know it, leaving him unable to answer any inquiries of substance. 

And so, if it's not, if the continued pursuit of infinite reach is not the reason behind Jackson's most recent endeavor, our question of "why?" will be met with the same silence and trembling uncertainty already in the Knicks' employ.


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