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By Jim Brighters, NBA Editor - Archive - Email
Jackson needs to save face
Phil Jackson One of the draws of hiring Phil Jackson was the hope he could bring free agents to New York.
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Now that Steve Kerr is head coach of the Golden State Warriors, Phil Jackson must wash the egg off his face and truly get to work.

Jackson's first and only choice left him at the altar. Literally, the only name ever associated with the New York Knicks' coaching vacancy will coach the Warriors.

Kerr gave his reasons, primarily geography. His family is still on the West Coast and it's the real world, so a five-year contract for a gentleman who has coached exactly the same number of NBA games as the family cat surely played a part in his decision.

And thus ends Jackson's first major attempt to woo someone to the Knicks organization in a horrid, loud thud.

One of the big draws for owner James Dolan when hiring Jackson was the hope he could bring free agents to New York. Jackson's first try at doing so, landing the untested, yet supposedly loyal soldier as a coach, was a failure.

"Ultimately, it was agonizing to say no to Phil because of what I think of him and what he's done for my career," Kerr said, according to David Aldridge and NBA.com. "When Phil Jackson asks you to coach the Knicks, how do you say no?"

Let us know, Steve, you just did.

The Warriors have a better roster, no doubt. They were a 50-win team this past season under Mark Jackson, but rifts with ownership allowed the Golden State job to be available.

Ownership might have played a role in Kerr's decision. Reports suggest when the Warriors made their final and successful push to Kerr, they emphasized how difficult more established names had it under Dolan.

If Dolan's existence factored into Kerr's decision, there's nothing Jackson can do about that in the immediate future. It'll take a few years of people recognizing that Jackson, not Dolan, is the authority figure for the Knickerbockers.

And isn't it telling that Kerr chose an owner who just fired a coach in Mark Jackson, who won 23 games, then 47, then 51, advanced the team in the playoffs and was adored by his players, over Dolan?

Jackson has already butted heads with Dolan over minor personnel issues. The owner might be a more difficult hurdle to leap than originally thought.

The other basketball impediment that cost Phil his man was said roster.

The Warriors may not be a championship-caliber squad, and coming out of the brutal Western Conference, it might take longer than a few years to come close to the Finals. They do have a top-10 talent in Steph Curry, and Aldridge, who broke this story, reported that when Kerr ran the Phoenix Suns, he tried to pull off a draft-night trade for Curry.

The All-Star point guard is locked up through 2017. That certainly aids the case.

Those are all valid, rational factors that should go into a life-altering decision.

But this was Phil Jackson we're talking about. The Zen Master. The most- decorated coach in basketball history. His allure was surely too much for anyone to overcome. He would make the hoops people swoon.

Except the very first person he tried to woo to the Knicks.

If Jackson only wanted Kerr, why didn't he lock the deal up? Five years is a long contract for an unproven guy, but Jackson failed to secure this deal. The result is a black eye on the early Jackson regime.

And where does he turn from here? The pressure is ratcheted up by the fact that Jackson' first attempt at hiring a coach resulted in embarrassment. Jackson needs to save face in a substantial way, lest we wonder why he would have this job if his previous relationships and stature yield nothing.

The one thing this process has really enforced is that Jackson, while one of the greatest coaches in organized sports history, doesn't have a far-reaching coaching tree.

Brian Shaw was his prize pupil and he finally got a chance with the Denver Nuggets last season. If things go really poorly for Zen Phil, and he has to try to pry Shaw from the Mile High City to the Big Apple, it'll cost the Knicks something in compensation. This New York franchise has little in terms of future first-round picks, so that price may be too steep.

The other viable names that fall under the Jackson umbrella are Kurt Rambis, Jim Cleamons, Tyronn Lue or the yet-to-be-retired Derek Fisher, currently a backup point guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Splashy names? Certainly not, although a Fisher hiring would provide some fun New York banter between himself and Jason Kidd, head coach of the Brooklyn Nets, who also retired, then walked right into coaching circles.

None of those names wash the Kerr spurning pie off Jackson's face. He needs a bigger move, a glossier name ...

A name like Phil Jackson, perhaps?

Seems unlikely at this point, but it would be a great way to show commitment. He never unconditionally ruled out coaching the Knicks at any point, but if his heart, or ailing hip, was into being on the sidelines, he probably would've taken the job by now.

It's way too early in his tenure to say Jackson owes the Knicks or the Knicks' faithful a return to the bench. No matter how humiliating it was to get jilted by Kerr, Jackson coming back to coaching is the final Hail Mary. If that goes south, the whole thing is a failure, not just this first crucial hire.

Perhaps, Jackson needs to break away from loyalty to the triangle offense and look outside the bloom of his inner circle. Kerr acknowledged there will be triangle offense aspects in his system with the Warriors, but told Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News, "The game has changed and I think my philosophy would reflect that."

The triangle can be effective with the right pieces, so maybe Jackson needs to acknowledge what Kerr said - that the game has changed.

Maybe, he needs to bring a fantastic head coach from New York back home. Maybe, this gentleman shares the same last name as Jackson.

Mark Jackson would appease the fan base, but, despite all the clamoring you've read, Phil Zen needs to be careful.

Phil Jackson can't be forced into hiring a big name to make everyone forget what a massive disaster the Kerr courtship turned into. If Mark Jackson clashed with Warriors brass, Knicks management won't be easy.

Phil's choice needs to be the right one. He needs to be able to appease Phil, Dolan, maybe Melo and the rest of the roster, which will surely look different when the Knicks accumulate a billion dollars in cap space after next season.

But Phil needs to start showing some credibility in this job.

The first major choice blows up in his face. He couldn't lure the prize coaching candidate, so it's fair to wonder what kind of swagger he carries, especially when it comes time to sitting at the bargaining table with Carmelo Anthony.

Phil is 0-1 with the Knicks. He has time to get this right, but he may have to tinker with his philosophy a touch. It didn't work this time and it's depressing a bit to think that Jackson's major selling point for receiving this position - himself - wasn't enough.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

- Poor officials. They are getting burned badly because they are still making calls they made in a pre-replay era. For example, guy hits a hand on a ball, ball goes out of bounds, refs would just let the team retain possession, rather than call a foul on the defender. Now if the zebras make the same call, they consult replay, and if the ball goes off the offensive player, the defensive team gets the ball, despite committing a foul. Here's the solution - call fouls whenever they are fouls, no matter the situation. We don't love referees becoming involved in the outcome, but they need to blow the whistle late. They need to save themselves from the criticism.

- Also, the NBA affirmed the Clippers/Thunder call because of lack of conclusive evidence, so no one was "robbed." The Clips were robbed in the sense a foul should've been called, but by letter of NBA law, the refs were correct.

- I think Stan Van Gundy is a great coach. Not sure I'd give the new Detroit Pistons coach total control of the basketball side, though. Has he earned the chance to do both? Gregg Popovich has. Doc Rivers has. Van Gundy isn't in that mix. His first difficult decision involves what to do with restricted free agent Greg Monroe.

- Mike Brown hasn't deserved his fate lately. The Lakers' firing was a joke just five games into the season and one season with the way overrated Cavaliers roster was not enough time. Three firings in five years would make me want nothing to do with the profession for a while.

- Paul Pierce's postgame comments about playing another year or two, although not definitively saying he wanted to do it in Brooklyn, could be chalked up to "too soon after a bitter defeat." I agree, Pierce still has "something left in the tank." He's still a crafty scorer, decent 3-point shooter and I don't think he even has to become a bench guy. Think he'd be perfect in Memphis or with Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers. Also, if the Chicago Bulls get rejected by Carmelo Anthony, he's a cheaper, albeit much older option who might help with their scoring woes.

- I believe my dog Dexter has a better chance of coaching the Utah Jazz than John Stockton. He has shown no apparent signs of being interested in returning to the league. I think Stockton would be a great coach, but he's basically more of a hermit than Obi Wan Kenobi.

- Draft stuff coming soon. Donald Sterling and Steve Kerr held me back.

- Movie moment - Much like "Harry Potter," I have never seen an X-Men or Marvel comics movie. Also, I'm quite content with that decision.

- TV moment - Who else is excited for Katherine Heigl's return to television? There was not one show, other than "Gotham," that made me briefly consider watching it when reading about next season's new shows.