Phil Jackson won two NBA championships as a teammate of Hall of Famers Walt Frazier and Bill Bradley. He won 11 titles as a coach of all-time greats Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.
For his next challenge, Jackson will try to win alongside a notoriously meddlesome owner, a high-volume shooter who hasn’t had significant success since college and a swingman who likes to untie opponents’ shoelaces.
Oh, and his team doesn’t have a first-round draft pick this summer or any salary cap space until 2015.
Welcome back to New York, Phil.
At least Jackson started his new venture looking refreshed Tuesday morning when he was introduced as president of the New York Knicks. He told a throng of reporters that winning a championship with the team he collected two rings with as a player in the 1970s would be “a capstone on a remarkable career that I’ve had.”
Flanked by Knicks owner Jim Dolan and General Manager Steve Mills at his introductory news conference at Madison Square Garden, Jackson made no promises about a quick turnaround but said he intended to foster a culture that emphasized team basketball regardless of whether it eventually runs the triangle offense.
“It’s not an insistence,” Jackson said of his preferred offense, “but I do like to have a system and I like a method of playing basketball. I think there’s a logical method of playing basketball in which there’s a number of principles.”
Jackson, 68, said he was given a five-year contract and intended to live primarily in New York once he resolved some logistical and medical issues. He currently lives in Playa del Rey with fiancee Jeanie Buss, the Lakers executive who runs the team’s business operations.
One concern Dolan promised Jackson he wouldn’t have: the owner’s interference. When asked if he would cede authority of basketball operations to Jackson, the infamously hands-on Dolan said, “Willingly and gratefully, yeah.”
Said Jackson: “Jim knew I wasn’t going to come if this didn’t happen, so there’s no reason not for him to have said it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here.”
Jackson said he wanted the Knicks to retain star forward Carmelo Anthony, who can opt out of his contract after the season, and would consider keeping Coach Mike Woodson, who has guided the team back into marginal playoff contention after a horrid start to its season.
“I have no problems with saying that Carmelo is in the future plans,” Jackson said. “As great a player as he is, he still has another level he can go to and together with the team we create he can get there.”
Jackson acknowledged the challenges he faces rebuilding a team that does not have a high draft pick this summer and will not be able to bring in any significant free agents until 2015, forcing it to get creative with roster decisions. Among the undesirable players the Knicks are stuck with is J.R. Smith, who has mostly made news this season for untying others’ shoes during games. Smith is under contract through the 2015-16 season.
“We’re going to have to go out and work the bushes for players this next year,” Jackson said, “and we’re going to have to work the coming years as we do go forward and get draft picks and get a chance to build this team.”
Jackson said he was not sure how actively involved he would be in scouting, noting that he was “not physically very adept at moving around commercially and sitting on bleachers in a high school gym.” He said he wanted to focus on the NBA and finding undervalued players who could help his team.
Dolan said discussions about hiring Jackson began informally at a December party hosted by a mutual friend, Irving Azoff, a music mogul with courtside seats to Lakers games.
Jackson said he was intrigued by the idea of returning to his former franchise after his hopes of working in a similar capacity with a team in Seattle were nixed when the NBA kept the Kings in Sacramento.
“There’s no better place to win than in New York City,” Jackson said. “It’s really something that’s special and it had a definite impact in my decision to come here. … Now to come back to where I started in basketball, it’s a great feeling.”
Jackson also won big in Chicago and Los Angeles, coaching the Bulls to six championships and the Lakers to five before retiring as coach after the 2011 playoffs.
Jeanie Buss had hoped Jackson would return to coach the Lakers early in the 2012-13 season after the team fired Mike Brown, but her father, team owner Jerry Buss, and brother, executive Jim Buss, decided instead to hire Mike D’Antoni. Jackson worked earlier this season as an informal consultant for the Detroit Pistons.
Jackson said he had remained in contact with the Lakers but indicated the team had not reached out to him about joining its front office.
“They have their directive,” Jackson said. “They know which way they’re going to go.”
The same could be said for the Knicks, who hope Jackson can take them to heights they haven’t achieved since he last called Madison Square Garden home.
Jackson said he didn’t fear the possibility that falling short would compromise his incomparable legacy.
“This is an opportunity and that’s what I look at it as, not as a possible failure,” he said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to do something I love and that’s be with a basketball team and hopefully create a team that loves each other and plays with each other.”
Bolch reported from Los Angeles.