Keeping Score

Why Phil Jackson Makes Too Much Sense For The New York Knicks

Don't be surprised to see the Zen Master calling the shots in New York next year.

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Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson attends a news conference after announcing his retirement in Los Angeles, California on May 11, 2011. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

For the New York Knicks, the season is about to come to a close. The Knicks, with Amar’e Stoudemire sidelined due to his losing bout with a fire extinguisher, and Carmelo Anthony missing shot after forced shot, trail the Miami Heat, 3-0, in their first round series. No NBA team has ever won a playoff series down 3-0, and these Knicks aren’t about to make a historic comeback, especially not against LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and this determined Miami Heat team.

So for the 39th straight year, the Knicks won’t be hanging a championship banner in Madison Square Garden (the Rangers, on the other hand, are very much alive in the Stanley Cup race). What now for the Knicks? If the Knicks get swept, or lose to the Heat in five games – both very likely scenarios – interim coach Mike Woodson is no longer the favorite to win the full-time gig. At least not until Knicks owner James Dolan, who loves a marquee name, gives 11-time NBA title-winner Phil Jackson a very hard sell.

Jackson, 66, is retired in name only. He can basically name his price, and Dolan will pay it. Why, you may wonder, would Jackson possibly taint his legacy by entering the ¬†dysfunctional Knicks universe? From day one, Anthony and Stoudemire, both under contract for next year, haven’t really jelled. (Stoudemire’s injury history, and $64 million left on his contract, makes him impossible to trade). And when Stoudemire is out, as we saw in last night’s Game 3, an 87-70 Miami victory, Anthony isn’t capable of carrying the Knicks alone. Though you could certainly argue that Anthony doesn’t need to try to shoulder everything. Did he really have to jack 23 shots?

(MORE: Pictures РLos Angeles Lakers Coach Phil Jackson) 

But the fact is, Jackson’s legacy kind of needs the Knicks. With his 11 titles, an NBA record, Jackson is already an all-time great coach. But the knock on Jackson: it’s easy to win titles in Chicago and Los Angeles when you have Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant on your teams (not to mention Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O’Neal, and Pau Gasol). Jackson has never tried a true turnaround act, never played a hand without the best card in the deck. If Jackson wins with the Knicks, there’s little debate he’s the best NBA coach of all time. And if he doesn’t – well, no one wins with the Knicks.

The Knicks are a low-risk proposition for Jackson, and one worth, what, thirty or forty or fifty million dollars to his bank account? Furthermore, the Knicks possess just enough talent for Jackson to work with. Jackson’s Zen magic, the story goes, helped Jordan and Bryant subsume – even ever so slightly – their massive egos for the good of the team. Why couldn’t this formula work to make Anthony and Stoudemire compatible? (Assuming Stoudemire, who missed 13 regular season games due to a bulging lower disk in his back, is healthy next year. And that’s a huge if).

One of Jackson’s former stars, Pippen, sees Jackson on Broadway. He told a Chicago radio station last week:

I do see a lot of basketball left in Phil. He still has a great mind, a lot of knowledge. I know for a fact he had some physical problems going on with him that he needed to take care of. He’s underway with that right now, so hopefully his recovery and everything goes well. Hopefully, we can see him back in the game in the next couple, three years, maybe next year.

Phil would definitely be a great fit, a former Knick player, a guy who always sort of eyed that New York market, so I definitely think it would be a great win-win situation for both.

We see it. Scottie Pippen sees it. Knicks fans are dying for it. The NBA will only benefit from  more star power in New York. Phil, just sign on the bottom-line.

(MORE: Phil Jackson’s Book, The Last Season)