Phil Jackson Can Learn From Michael Jordan’s Blunders And Steer Clear of the Cronies

Phil Jackson getting rejected by his No. 1 head coaching pick could be a positive for New York in the long run. How he responds to Kerr’s Knicks rebuff will tell us much about how willing New York’s President of Basketball Operations is to think outside the box—err… Triangle.

In recent weeks however, the Golden State Warriors’ head coaching job, vacated by the coach Knicks fans are salivating over and filled by the coach Phil sought to make his apprentice, has become a flashpoint for the NBA in the white privilege discussion. On its own Steve Kerr’s recruitment by Jackson to coach the Knicks made sense, but the ensuing league-wide bidding war for a sage TNT broadcaster was highly unusual.

For individuals without blinders on, it’s undeniable that the social connections which are rarely available to people of color is often used as an advantage for whites to get ahead in the monochromatic corporate world.

However, Kerr’s hiring after the firing of Mark Jackson created a narrative that race may have played a factor in creating a comfortability between Kerr and owner Joe Lacob that didn’t exist with his predecessor.

“I’ve known Joe actually a long time through a mutual friend, a venture capitalist in the Bay Area. So we’ve been on golf trips together,” Kerr told Kawakami in the hours after negotiating his Warriors contract. “The familiarity for sure was helpful and it helped everybody relax and just sort of… be themselves.”

Mark’s miniscule four-year, $8 million deal signed in 2011 does little to dispel the suspicions when propped up beside Steve Kerr’s five-year $25 million. Kerr’s comments to the Mercury News’ Tim Kawakami after choosing the Warriors sunny future over the snowballing Knicks organization have been dissected and placed underneath a subtext microscope, but there’s another point to be bounced around here.

Golf with venture capitalists and job offers in the 13th hole bunker sounds stereotypically elitist and has inspired satire in the Warriors name, but if there’s any bias, it is the NBA ignoring minority coaching candidates that don’t have NBA playing experience while promoting white coaches without NBA highlight reels to the bench on an annual basis.

Lost in the stereotypical golf course business deal scenario playing out in the minds of vigilant observers is that the Warriors team president Rick Welts was a top-level exec with the Suns when Kerr served as the general manager from 2007 until 2010.

The expectations of the job have changed since Mark was hired, but there's more cronyism at work here than racism. The Knicks are familiar with rampant cronyism in their hiring practices.

Not long ago, former Knicks general manager Glen Grunwald hired his Indiana Hoosiers teammate Mike Woodson as Mike D’Antoni’s defensive coordinator before the strike-shortened 2012 season. The difference is that Woodson was already a veteran head coach in the league credited with flipping the Atlanta Hawks’ fortunes around. In the aftermath of D’Antoni’s resignation in mid-March after the shine wore off of Linsanity, Woodson directed an 18-24 doormat on an 18-6 odyssey into the postseason.

That 24-game tenure earned him an extension from Grunwald, who spurned Phil Jackson’s overtures to become head coach, but not before he signed a pact with the unofficial team sponsor Creative Artists Agency to represent him.

CAA is the method by which cronyism has filtrated throughout the Knicks septic tank. You’d need an exorcist to rid the Knicks nest of CAA’s elements.

In his role as President of Basketball Operations, Jackson will work mostly out of Los Angeles, which is unusual for a team executive earning $12 million per year. 

Phil wants more than just a protégé. He now wants one of “his guys” serving as his sideline vessel. Scottie Pippen has reportedly been offered an assistant coaching gig before the head coach has even become a glint in the eyes of Knicks fans.

Unwittingly, Phil has become a Vigo the Carpathian NBA analogue. If he can’t raise a Triangle prodigy from the crib, he could take the closest thing he can find by hiring 34-year-old former Laker and L.A. D-Fenders assistant Luke Walton. Or he could appoint 64-year-old Bulls and Lakers assistant Jim Cleamons to the post as his surrogate.

Mark Jackson’s propensity for reverting to isolation plays on offense is too similar to Woodson’s and too antithetical to Phil’s preference for a flowing offense.

The Zen Master wants to sire a puppet whose strings he can maipulate and Mark is too rebellious to have Phil hovering over him.

Philosophy understates how important the Triangle offense is to Phil. It’s an idealogy.

This is about more than just Phil’s individual legacy. He desires to pass on the coaching idealogy that Tex Winters bestowed upon him.

After all, it’s difficult enough implementing and teaching the Triangle to an entire roster without having to first cram it’s idiosyncrasies down the head coach’s cranium first.

Nobody understands the triangle more than Derek Fisher. The Triangle turns its point guards into nondescript extras in a 10-man production and yet, Fisher flourished in the role during two separate stints. 

Doc Rivers’ 37-year-old right hand man Tyronn Lue could also leap at the opportunity to be re-programmed into a Triangle acolyte.  Lue played for Jackson’s first two championship teams and is wet enough behind the ears to be easily influenced. The only question is whether he and Walton have the acumen and gravitas to assume a position that’s so high-profile.

Cronyism rarely yields winning its desired results underneath the bright lights of the NBA’s cutthroat, high-pressure setting.

Instead of hiring a successful free agent head coach such as Lionel Hollins, Nate McMillan, experienced assistant coach Patrick Ewing or an outside the box choice like Miami’s David Fizdale, Phil Jackson is repeating the mistakes of his greatest Triangle pupil.

Jackson’s greatest triangle disciple would never coach, but in his current capacity, as majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats His Airness has appointed friends to hold court in his front office and coaching staff.

Don’t let the Bobcats’ marginal success in the Eastern Conference’s capsized ship to fool you. Nothing has changed in Charlotte.

Earlier this year, Jordan’s team president Rod Higgins promoting his son to the 15th spot on the Bobcats roster mirrored the nepotism displayed by the Knicks stealthy promotion of the brother of client and recently re-signed Knick J.R. Smith.

Jordan hired his brother Larry as Bobcats Director of Player Personnel, which is a role designated for the “top evaluator of college and NBA talent” within the franchise.

In fairness to the Knicks, their Director of Player Personnel position is filled by a former Denver Nuggets general manager, but Jackson’s inclination to hire people he knows no matter how inexperienced or unprepared is nearly as disconcerting.

It appears flexibility won’t be an adjective to describe the Jackson administration in New York. Jackson’s immaculate reputation has allowed him the latitude to pursue bizarre coaching candidates without criticism, but so far he has rigid GPS directions ringing in his head about the Knicks’ course under his watch.

It’s the equivalent of Seinfeld trying to date a woman exactly like himself. Sounds great in your head, but not in execution.  

The Warriors found their man and possibly the owner’s weekend yacht first mate, but in the NBA’s win-now mode what matters is the win-loss tally. The Knicks are searching for a mini-clone of their 6-7, 11-time champion. As we’ve seen from previous Phil apprentices such as Brian Shaw, Kurt Rambis and Bill Cartwright, those are difficult expectations to reach.

The Knicks would be better off searching for the best available coaching hire instead of a Phil Jackson impersonator. 

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