Can Phil Jackson Replicate the Pat Riley Blueprint as an NBA Executive?

D.J. Foster@@fosterdjContributor IMarch 10, 2014

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UPDATE on Tuesday, March 11 at 11:55 a.m. EST by Adam Fromal

According to Chris Broussard, you might as well start penciling in Phil Jackson's name as the next member of the New York front office. 

"Everything is pretty much done," an anonymous source told the ESPN reporter Tuesday morning. "There are just some little things here and there that need to be worked out, but the Knicks are very confident that this is essentially done."

This is the most definitive report we've heard thus far, though no word has officially come out of either the Knicks camp or Jackson's. Still, Broussard is rather bullish on the signed, sealed and delivered nature of this rumored deal. 

New York fans, you now have permission to let your excitement continue its crescendo. 

--End of update--



Is Phil Jackson ready for a return to basketball by going back to where his playing career started?

Chris Broussard of has the report:

All indications are that Phil Jackson will accept the New York Knicks' offer to join the club's front office, according to a league source.

"The Knicks have a sense of what's going to happen," the source said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "And as of right now, it looks like Phil's taking the job.

"There's always the possibility of something falling apart at the last minute, but the Knicks' sense is that he's joining them."

If Jackson does indeed join the Knicks, he wouldn't be the first legendary head coach to make the transition from the sidelines to the front office. Red Auerbach with the Boston Celtics and Pat Riley with the Miami Heat are two of the most notable and successful examples, but Jackson would certainly be facing organizational obstacles that those two didn't.

DALLAS, TX - MAY 8:  Phil Jackson speaks to the media after his final game as Los Angeles Lakers head coach following Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on May 8, 2011 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

The primary obstacle, of course, is Knicks owner James Dolan. Many intelligent basketball minds and legends of the game have come through New York during Dolan's tenure, but none have been able to overcome the limitations Dolan places on his employees. Here's Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News on how Donnie Walsh, the Knicks' last big front-office hire, worked out:

Walsh had autonomy until he didn’t, until he found out the full and suffocating extent of Dolan’s policies regarding the media, until Dolan thought he could be the point man on the Carmelo Anthony trade — performing about as well as the point guards his team has hired — and a good basketball man and basketball gent such as Donnie Walsh couldn’t take it anymore.

Walsh is back in Indiana now and back in first place with the Pacers.

It would be one thing if Walsh was an isolated example, but Larry Brown, Glen Grunwald and other respected basketball minds have passed through New York and have been unable to change anything in large part because Dolan was unwilling to loosen his grip and stay out of basketball decisions.

The hope, of course, is that Jackson's incredible legacy and clout will allow him to wrestle away some of the executive power Dolan yields.

The problem is that the dysfunction may be a little too institutionalized at this point for one man to overcome, even if that man is probably the greatest coach in NBA history. Here's Broussard with more:

Bringing Jackson aboard could move the Knicks away from their ties to Creative Artists Agency, the player and coach representation firm that many league insiders, including some Knicks players, believe has an inordinate amount of power within the franchise.

Assistant general manager Allan Houston, coach Mike Woodson, player personnel director Mark Warkentien and superstar Carmelo Anthony are all CAA clients.

One Knicks player recently told that the CAA ties were a problem in the locker room.

"You see how guys from CAA are treated differently," the player said. "How they get away with saying certain things to coaches. How coaches talk to them differently than they talk to the other guys. It's a problem."

It's a tall order to expect Jackson to rid the Knicks of CAA's influence, wrestle Dolan for control, fix a flawed roster and find a way to help keep Carmelo Anthony in a Knicks uniform this offseason, but perhaps he can find a way.

After all, the Heat weren't exactly in an ideal situation when Riley retired as coach and became team president for the 2008-09 season. Miami was coming off a 15-67 season—worse than the Knicks are now—with only one star on the roster in Dwyane Wade

We know how that played out. With Riley in the front office full time, the Heat went back to the playoffs, cleared enough cap room to sign LeBron James and Chris Bosh and won two rings.

MIAMI - DECEMBER 25:  (L-R) Head Coach of the Los Angeles Lakers Phil Jackson and Head Coach of the Miami Heat Pat Riley share a laugh before the game on December 25, 2005 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. The Heat defeated the Lakers 97-92.
Victor Baldizon/Getty Images

At the least, Jackson will add some badly needed gravitas to the front office, and that should help in attracting the very best talent available. The Knicks have financial and market advantages over just about every team in the league, but it would be perfectly understandable if non-CAA players and coaches lacked trust in the organization at this point. Jackson can help to restore some of that, especially if he's given enough power.

As Bleacher Report's Joe Flynn suggested recently, you would expect that to be the case if Jackson signs on:

But make no mistake: Jackson will not come to New York out of the goodness of his heart. He desires power and control. If he even entertains the Knicks' offer, it means he believes Dolan is willing to give it to him.

Ultimately, the optimism surrounding Jackson's arrival should be tempered given the fate of previous "franchise saviors" under Dolan, but there's reason to get excited.

It's a badly needed distraction from the on-court product, of course, but it's also a good PR move for the Knicks, which seems rarer and rarer these days. Jackson gets to come home, the franchise gets a badly needed boost in basketball acumen and prestige, and perhaps Dolan relinquishes some of his control.

There's more potential for good than there is bad here. After all, it can't get much worse, right?


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