Jackson won 11 rings as coach of the Bulls and Lakers.
Adam Hunger/Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
As soon as the Knicks fired Derek Fisher on Monday morning, Phil Jackson’s music started to play. After all, New York has one of the greatest coaches ever sitting in an office somewhere, not anywhere near a sideline. Now, the Knicks can rectify their coaching wrongs and install Jackson on the sidelines, right?
Pump the brakes, friends.
Should the president of the Knicks take the spot on the bench after Fisher’s gone fishing? No.
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Even with all his past coaching success with the Bulls and Lakers, no he shouldn’t.
Even if the Knicks, who have dropped nine of their last 10 to fall to 23-31 this season, could use an infusion of life, it doesn’t need to be from the man with 11 rings.
At 70 years old, Jackson would be the NBA’s oldest coach, three years Gregg Popovich’s senior. And there are those who would reasonably have their concerns on that front.
Many may want Phil Jackson to coach the Knicks, but after seeing him walk across the practice court there is no way his body would allow it.
But if speculating on someone’s health without actually knowing the facts is a fool’s errand—which it is—then there are still other reasons to stay away from Jackson as Knicks head coach.
Start with some of his actual coaching preferences. The Knicks may not be doing it on every offensive possession, but New York is still running more triangle sets than any other team in the league. That’s a Jackson influence, and you can’t imagine that would change in the right direction if he took over a seat on the floor. If anything, things would get a lot more geometrically limited for a Jackson-led Knicks squad.
Those Arron Afflalo post-ups we all love so much? They’re not going away if Jackson leaves his box at center court and walks 10 rows down. Ranking second in the NBA in mid-range attempts? That’s sticking, too.
Then there’s the little matter of personnel decisions, which would exacerbate Jackson’s stubborn hold on his beloved offense. We’ve seen coaches flop in the dual coaching-front office role before, though Gregg Popovich and Stan Van Gundy, who seems bound for some success in Detroit, could use their own experiences to help dispel that belief. Outside of those rare exceptions, however, when one person leads an organization from both on bench and in the front office, it removes any semblance of checks and balances.
New York’s offense can become more efficient with the addition of better players—and Jackson has shown something of an eye for identifying talent. But the shot selection won’t improve. Not in the triangle. And that’s putting a legitimate cap on the capability of the Knicks’ scoring attack. If Jackson were to look for players knowing full well that the coach would wholeheartedly implement the triangle, the whole nature of talent evaluation would change. And the Knicks would be worse off for it.
It’s not just about coaching, though. The Knicks would also have to take workload into account.
Even if Jackson, physically or intellectually, were capable of taking over a coach/de facto GM dual role, who would be there to call him out when he needs to improve? Popovich has R.C. Buford, maybe the best general manager in the whole darn league, right next to him for that exact purpose. On the other end, teams like the Clippers, who have Doc Rivers in charge of everything from coaching to front office duties, don’t have anyone to call the coach out on his occasionally odd decision-making. It’s easy to argue that organizational monotony has led to more trouble than progress.
There’s simply too much to do these days. No longer does scouting entail only going to see a player once or twice. No longer are European- or African- or Asian-born prospects "unheard of" or "mysteries" as they’re often marketed. Executives are studying these players along with the rest of the league all the time. And a coach can’t competently do his job of reviewing for an upcoming opponent if he has to split his hours between a couple of full-time positions.
There are real options out there, enticing names the Knicks could bring in to coach. Tom Thibodeau was tremendous in almost every way during his five years in Chicago. David Blatt proved to be a strong X’s and O’s mind. Luke Walton entered a tremendous situation in Golden State and, at the very least, maintained it.
Don’t go with what’s easy. Go with what’s right. Unfortunately, at this stage of his career, that isn’t Phil.
Fred Katz covers the NBA for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter: @FredKatz.