Timing not right for Jackson, Nets
Dec 30, 2012 at 12:00a ET
Phil Jackson is a very smart man, so he probably already knows this. But in case not, in case he’s tempted by the lavish sums the Brooklyn Nets’ billionaire owner might fling at him in the coming week or the burning urge to rush into his revenge against the Los Angeles Lakers for hiring someone else this season, here’s some sound advice.
Do not come back this season, Phil. Put that Zen stuff to good use. Use patience, wisdom and self-awareness and understand it’s in your best interest to sit on those 11 rings and wait until the 2013-14 season to take over a head-coaching job with any NBA franchise, particularly the Nets.
League sources have confirmed to FOXSports.com the multiple reports that Jackson, the former Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers head coach, is the sole target of the Brooklyn Nets head-coaching search after the team fired Avery Johnson last week.
These sources believe Nets owner and Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov will meet in Europe with his inner circle shortly after the New Year, formulate a specific offer for Jackson without the input of general manager Billy King and shortly thereafter make their pitch to Jackson for his services. They also speculate Jackson will give it serious consideration, pointing to the following reasons he might take the job:
* Prokhorov, who likes to call rival Knicks owner James Dolan “that little man,” will happily pay to land a star like Jackson as a way to both rejuvenate his mediocre team and one-up the Knicks in a New York market where it’s as much about buzz as wins.
* Jackson, after being passed over for the Lakers job this season for Mike D’Antoni, said he wants to coach again, can’t get enough of the media spotlight and his own burning need to be relevant. There are few places to satiate this like New York City.
* The East is so awful, with the Miami Heat being the only true title contender and the rival Knicks team more of a paper tiger than threat, Jackson would face low standards in relation to guarding his legacy. An Eastern Conference Finals, Prokhorov stated goal, would be the public-relations equivalent of winning it all.
* The Nets, as poorly constructed as they are, do have a team well-suited for Jackson’s triangle offense: A jump-shooting point guard in Deron Wiliams, a two-guard athletic enough to be a high-impact play maker in Joe Johnson, and a very good big man in Brook Lopez.
* Jackson wants to coach, and there are few great jobs that will open up in the coming year.
All of this makes sense.
But it is in Jackson’s best interest to hold fast, tell the Russians he wants to wait until the offseason to decide on the job and roll the dice that a better situation can and will emerge.
For Jackson, this makes sense for several reasons. The first is that the Nets are simply not a team with a roster built to his basketball standards despite their ability to fit into his system.
Gerald Wallace is tied up at $10 million a year for three more seasons after this one. Williams has regressed from one of the game’s best point guards to someone who looks ineffectual and worth much less than his five-year max contract. And Joe Johnson’s own enormous deal makes him one of the most expensive one-on-one players of all time.
And while it’s true there will be few NBA jobs open in the summer that would entice Jackson more than the Nets gig, there is one surprising but entirely possible head-coaching opportunity that is worth waiting for: The Los Angeles Clippers job.
Despite the Clippers 17-game winning streak and league-best 25-6 record, there are a host of reasons to look toward the future and think current head coach Vinny Del Negro could end up not returning next season. Del Negro is in the last year of his contract, and Clippers point guard Chris Paul, the key to the organization’s future and whose own contract is up at the end of the year, could have a huge say in who becomes the Clippers next head coach. That power to select a coach will be a key selling point in enticing Paul to stick around Los Angeles.
The reason Paul and the Clippers could tap someone else rests with the sneaky fact the Clippers have a team tailor-made for regular season excellence and postseason letdowns. Much like last season, when they started 15-7 (they started 16-6 this season), the Clippers could find themselves transitioning from the hype of the league early to overmatched in the playoffs, which are an entirely different animal.
They score 17.7 fast-break points per game, the third most in the league and up significantly from 11 fast-break points per game last season. That’s fine right now, but relying on those points in transition will not work nearly as effectively in the postseason, when defenses tighten up and the half-court game takes prominence. The Clippers also boast a top-tier bench, another factor that offers huge help in the regular seasons that feature back-to-back and three-game-in-four-night stretches but loses its impact in post-season play, when rotations tighten up and the breaks between games negate the depth factor.
Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan’s woeful free-throw shooting? Jamal Crawford’s equally woeful defense? They, too, will factor into how differently the Clippers perform in the playoffs. Throw in the fact Del Negro will likely be severely out-coached at least by the second round of the playoffs, as he was by Gregg Popovich in the Spurs’ sweep of the Clippers last season, and this regular season is in no way an indication Phil Jackson won’t have the best stick-it-up-your-craw job in sports to use as his personal Lakers-revenge weapon.
No, the Clippers' 17-game winning streak is less proof that Del Negro is here to stay and more a way to raise expectations he and his team may not be able to meet come the playoffs.
Look at it this way. If the Clippers this season end up losing a second-round playoff series to Memphis, San Antonio, Oklahoma City or a rejuvenated Lakers team — either one entirely plausible — there is little doubt Del Negro would be on the hot seat.
So the idea of putting the Phil Jackson decision off until the summer makes sense for Billy King, too, not that anyone other than Billy King probably cares. League sources — to say nothing of the obvious — say the fact King was a bystander in Johnson’s firing means his own job security remains perilous at best. Jackson's arrival — with his need for power, the right to make personnel decisions and keen understanding it was the Russian who actually brought him in — would only hasten King’s departure.
The line that P.J. Carlesimo is the coach and will get the chance to coach is mostly a farce, but it does offer a lot of people the right road to the future: Jackson gets to see what else is out there and methodically evaluate just what the Nets are all about. King gets a stay of execution. The Nets can set themselves up with the right timing to target reported second-choice Jeff Van Gundy, who ESPNNewYork reported this week wants to wait until the offseason to discuss the job. Carlesimo gets another head-coaching chance he probably deserves.
It’s true there are several other coaches out there who could be great for Brooklyn, including Van Gundy, Nate McMillan and Mike Dunleavy, and a lot could get in the way for both Jackson and Brooklyn if they wait.
A lot can get in the way of this, to be sure. In Los Angeles, Paul could decide he doesn’t want to play for Phil (though he should), mercurial owner Donald Sterling could decide he doesn’t want to share the spotlight with Jackson (both men have big-time egos), and Del Negro could end up cutting his way through a brutal Western Conference playoff picture despite all the indications that’s unlikely.
It’s also true in the NBA today — a cutthroat world where coaches can go on the whim of a star or an owner — that the Lakers job could be open as well if that team doesn’t meet equally intense expectations.
And yes, an offer around $10 to $12 million a year in a place like New York City presented by an ownership group hell-bent on getting Phil Jackson would be tempting indeed for the pretend-retired head coach.
But Zen has its lessons. Like: Ask the right questions, stay in the moment, practice simplicity and see things for what they are.
Do that, and Phil Jackson will realize now is the time to take his time, not lunge for the money and adulation Brooklyn can bestow on him. With the Nets so set on getting him, Jackson should be able to leverage even the one thing Prokhorov and his inner circle don’t want to give him: Time.