The man who had reserve role in the New York Knicks 1973 NBA championship team is now in charge of running the storied but recently beleaguered franchise.
Phil Jackson will join the Knicks as the leader of their front office, a person with knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports. The person requested anonymity because the agreement has not been made official, but the Knicks have scheduled a news conference Tuesday for a major announcement.
Jackson, one of the NBA's most successful coaches, has no front-office experience, but wanted back in the league in some capacity and ruled out a return to the bench because of health issues.
He played 12 seasons in the NBA — 11 of them with the Knicks. He averaged 8.1 points and 4.3 rebounds a game in the Knicks' 1972-73 championship season — the last time the franchise won a title. He then had his best year the following season, averaging 11.1 points and 5.8 rebounds a game.
New York and the Knicks are special to Jackson, and now he has a chance to lead the franchise back to respectability and potentially a championship.
If that happened, he would be revered in the three largest cities in the U.S.: Chicago (where he won six championships as the Bulls' coach in the 1990s), Los Angeles (five titles as the Lakers' coach in the 2000s) and New York.
"I would want him to view me as a coach,'' Knicks coach Mike Woodson said on ESPN radio after the announcement was made. "If and when that time comes, I would just love the chance to sit with him and talk basketball. He's a basketball guy, I'm a basketball guy. This is 30 years I've spent in this league, so that's what we'll do, but until that happens, my focus is strictly on trying to get this team in the playoffs. That's it.''
Woodson has come under fire since the Knicks, who were second in the Eastern Conference standings last season, have slipped to
But the transformation from mediocrity to title contender won't happen overnight. Jackson faces several issues, starting with All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony who can become a free agent this summer.
Even if Anthony chooses to re-sign, the Knicks will be stuck in a salary-cap predicament in 2014-15. With Anthony ($20 million-plus), Amar'e Stoudemire ($23.4 million), Tyson Chandler ($14.5 million) and Andrea Bargnani ($11.5 million) on the books, New York will be limited in free agency this summer.
Minus major deals, the core players will be the same next season as this season, and the Knicks aren't even in playoff position in the sad Eastern Conference. These are roster problems that won't be solved easily.
There are other issues, too, starting with how deep Jackson wants to dive into this project. How hands on will he be? With travel not high on his list, will he go to Europe, college arenas and scouting combines to evaluate players? There is a significant amount of dirty work that goes into running a pro basketball team. Jackson is also tasked with building a front-office staff and possibly hiring a coach, if he decides to let Woodson go.
Also, how will Jackson mitigate owner James Dolan's meddling and odd Madison Square Garden rules, such as limited time spent talking to news reporters.
It's a challenge, the kind Jackson embraces.
Jackson made his name in coaching. He is regarded as one of the best basketball coaches in history. He has the highest regular-season (.704) and postseason (.688) winning percentages and has won more titles (11) than any other coach.
Jackson led the Bulls to three consecutive titles in 1991, 1992 and 1993 and 1996, 1997 and 1998. He coached the Lakers to three straight titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002 and two more in 2009 and 2010.
He also lost in the Finals in 2004 and 2008.
Even with all that success, he was named coach of the year just once — in 1995-96, when his Bulls set the still-standing mark for best regular-season record at 72-10, then went 15-3 in the playoffs.
Though he didn't invent the triangle offense, he pioneered the use of it on a widespread basis, and while teams have used versions of it, no team has been able to run that offense as effectively as any of Jackson's teams.
Of course, few coaches have had the caliber of players that Jackson did, starting with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen with the Bulls and Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and Pau Gasol with the Lakers.