Phil Jackson is contemplating a return the sidelines, and he would “absolutely” listen if he received a call from the Cleveland Cavaliers, a source close to Jackson told FOX Sports Ohio.
Jackson won 11 championships as coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers, but he retired after the 2010-11 season. Recent reports have indicated he is looking to get back into coaching — something the source confirmed.
Meanwhile, the Cavs have started their search for a new coach after firing Byron Scott on Thursday. Jackson’s name is among those on their list.
“Absolutely, yes. He’d listen (if the Cavs called),” the source said. “Why wouldn’t he? Coaching is his passion.”
Jackson has only been a head coach in two of the NBA’s largest markets, which immediately creates skepticism he would take a job in Cleveland. The source said such talk is overplayed.
“He grew up in North Dakota and coached a minor-league team in Albany (NY),” the source said. “Trust me, Phil has nothing against mid-sized American cities.”
As for Jackson wanting to only coach teams built to compete for a championship, the source insisted it’s never been something Jackson has set out to do.
“Does he want to win titles? Of course,” he said. “But taking a team to the playoffs that no one expects to get there is a big accomplishment, too. If he decides to get back into coaching, he will consider all options.”
Besides that, the source added, the Cavs do have some appeal, despite finishing last in the Central Division for three straight years.
“They’re like a college All-Star team that’s playing in the NBA,” the source said. “Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters — they’re all young guys, guys you can build around. They could be a lot of fun in the right system.”
If Jackson does decide to return, the Cavs wouldn’t be his only suitor. Philadelphia and Detroit also have vacancies, and several more jobs are expected to open up between now and the NBA Finals in June.
On top of that, former Lakers forward Luke Walton, who played for Jackson before spending the previous season and a half in Cleveland, has his doubts about Jackson with the Cavs.
“I would be surprised if he’d come to such a young team on that side of the process,” Walton said. “But I get shocked every day in this league, so I won’t say it’s not going to happen.”
Several reports have indicated Jackson is seeking a front-office role, or a dual role as an executive and coach. But, the source said, “the teaching and developing part” would likely be Jackson’s main priority.
“Coaching is what he does,” the source said. “His age (67) and health have slowed him a little and made travel difficult. But if he feels well enough to coach, that’s what he’ll do.”
Jackson was considered the top candidate to replace Mike Brown when the Lakers fired Brown just five games into the season. But Lakers owner Jim Buss made the surprising move to hire Mike D’Antoni instead.
Complicating matters is the fact Jackson is engaged to Jeanie Buss, Jim Buss’ sister and an executive with the Lakers. Some believe their relationship will keep him close to the organization.
“I’d actually be pretty surprised if he went back there,” the source said. “Jeanie or not, how that whole thing went down (after Brown was fired) soured him.”
The source added that, in two years, “the Cavs could be a better situation anyway” than the Lakers.
“It all seems farfetched, but what if LeBron (James) actually did return (to the Cavs)?” the source asked. “Who knows if that’s anything close to reality? If he did, they’re instant contenders and a great place to be.”
Jackson has compiled a career record of 1,155-485 for a .704 winning percentage in 20 seasons. The Lakers went 57-25 in three of his final four seasons, and 65-17 in the other (2008-09).
Other names linked to the Cavs opening include Brown, who coached them from 2005-10, Golden State assistant Mike Malone and Indiana assistant Brian Shaw.
When asked, the source said he couldn’t “accurately say” if Jackson had yet been contacted by the Cavs.