Could Cavs land their own Phil Jackson?

Will the Cavaliers look to make a move similar to the Knicks' hiring of Phil Jackson as team president?

Brad Penner

With 11 games left in the regular season and the playoffs a long shot, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert will soon have to eye his next move.

That doesn’t mean Gilbert is determined to rearrange the front office. It means he has some decisions to make this summer. Mostly, after the in-season firing of former general manager Chris Grant, Gilbert must hire someone to run the basketball side of things.

Today, that man is acting GM David Griffin. League sources have indicated Gilbert has become a fan of Griffin’s approach and admires the work Griffin has put in so far. That includes Griffin’s trade-deadline deal with the Philadelphia 76ers to steal starting center Spencer Hawes.

So to say Griffin could land the gig on a full-time basis is hardly a reach.

But Gilbert thinks big and when there’s been a job opening in the past, he has tried to make at least a minor splash. During Gilbert’s ownership, names that have surfaced as potential coaches or GMs (or both) have included high-profile types such as Larry Brown, John Calipari, Tom Izzo and even Phil Jackson. Each is a star in his own right, a big basketball name that commands respect.

Jackson, in fact, is a good example of the type of move Gilbert may be contemplating. After coaching the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers to a combined 11 championships, Jackson was hired as president of the New York Knicks last week. Interestingly, the Knicks are keeping their GM (who actually helped recruit Jackson) and, as of right now, their coach.

Jackson wasn’t brought in to draw up plays or shout instructions from the sidelines, and he may not even be the point man when it comes to draft picks or trades. He was hired because he’s a proven winner who, in theory, understands how to mend and advance a culture. He will oversee everything, yes, but more than that, he offers the Knicks immediate relevancy. Jackson has been ultra-successful in this game, and because of that, the Knicks now possess an optimistic feel.

Another example is what the Cleveland Browns did a few years back, when Mike Holmgren was hired to oversee all football operations. Like the Knicks, the Browns employed a GM. But as Jackson will do in New York, Holmgren was the president and made the final ruling on everything.



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Now, the Browns may be a bad example, because the Holmgren era didn’t exactly produce results. But between Jackson and Holmgren, you get the idea. It is this: There can be more than one major decision-maker in a front office.

And when it comes to basketball, plenty of major names would consider such a role. Former coach George Karl is reportedly open to a position similar to the one Jackson landed with the Knicks. Ex-Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan is available and has said he wouldn’t mind getting back to work. And NBA analyst Hubie Brown would certainly create considerable buzz as a front-office type.

This isn’t to say Gilbert has decided who or what he’s looking for. None of the retirees mentioned above have been linked to the Cavs in any way. Again, Gilbert could simply remove the disclaimer to Griffin’s title, and that would be that. Or the Cavs could simply hire a new GM. That possibility, too, has to be considered by those who follow the team.

But playoffs or no, the sense around the league is Gilbert will do what he’s done in the past — performing detailed research and gauging those available, what functions they may be willing to serve, and if they can actually help the Cavs get better. Then, and only then, is the owner likely to make a final call on who is running the basketball side of things in 2014-15.