So Phil Jackson is once again playing footsie with the New York Knicks.
According to the latest reports, Jackson has ruled out the head coaching position in New York, in part because the big man needs another knee replacement. But he is apparently leaning toward accepting a front-office job at Madison Square Garden.
Will he or won’t he? It’s the question everyone is asking in New York. It’s also the question that Phil — channeling Mario Cuomo — is presumably asking himself. (Hamlet in Hollywood?) He was expected to make a decision Monday, but we all know that Phil is too unconventional to worry about expectations. He’ll decide when he’s really thought this all through.
Of course, that assumes Jackson really is thinking at all about this job, let alone “leaning toward” taking it. There’s every reason to suspect that he’s just messing with us while enjoying all of the attention. He can’t possibly need the money, and does he really want the aggravation at this point in his life? Maybe getting back into basketball would make sense if this were a serious team asking him to do something tangible — like, say, the Boston Celtics asking him to mentor their young coach, Brad Stevens, while helping to develop some of their inexperienced players.
It’s not. It’s the Knicks.
This is a team that has been embarrassing themselves and their fans, year in and year out, ever since the Dolans bought the team in 1999. We’re now in the midst of their most Knicksian season yet. Where to start with these #LOLKNICKS? Perhaps with Carmelo Anthony’s amazing feats of selfishness? Or Coach Mike Woodson’s perplexing offensive and defensive schemes? How about with J.R. Smith getting reprimanded by the league for untying an opposing player’s shoe? Or with Raymond Felton’s recent felony charge for gun possession? (Felton, you’ll recall, was signed in lieu of investing in lovable Jeremy Lin. Good call, Dolans.) At 24-40, the Knicks appear to be tanking in order to improve their draft position. The trouble is, they traded away their 2014 first-round draft pick to the Denver Nuggets for Carmelo Anthony. D'oh!
I suppose it’s conceivable that Jackson sees his old team as basketball’s Everest. Sure, he was able to make world champions of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls and Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers. But that was child’s play. To make champions -- okay, how about viable competitors? --- of James Dolan’s Knicks? Now that would be something.
Whatever promises of autonomy the Dolans make to Jackson, they can be counted on to interfere with the management of this team. And as long as the Dolans are interfering with the management of this team, it will under-perform at best.
If Jackson says yes to the Knicks, we all know how this story will end -- not with his 12th ring. Because they're the Dolans — and he’s Phil Jackson — maybe no one would blame Jackson for the inevitable disaster. But it would still be a pretty unpleasant way to spend a couple of years (or months).
More to the point, if Jackson takes the job, his decision will be proof that he lacks the judgment to run the team. You can take this logic a step further: It’s not possible for the Knicks to become a competitive basketball team as long as the current ownership is in charge. Call it the Knicks Paradox: Only people incapable of turning around the Knicks are willing to work for the Dolans.
(Jonathan Mahler is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)