Just as the Lakers participated in a non eventful practice for a non eventful game Wednesday against the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center, something notable happened nearly 3,000 miles away.
The New York Knicks formally introduced Phil Jackson as their new team president, a move that brought some extra dose of optimism a one beleaguered franchise. Jackson lacks any front office experience, but the Knicks are banking that his extensive coaching resume will carry over that they devoted a reported five-year contract worth $60 million.
“It’s weird to see him with a Knick logo behind him,” said Lakers forward Pau Gasol, who won two NBA titles under Jackson with the Lakers in 2009 and 2010. He’s in a good place and the Knicks are fortunate to have him. They’ve given him a big contract and big investment but I think he’s worth every cent of it.”
That’s because Gasol argued Jackson’s coaching expertise hardly involved his deeply entrenched beliefs surrounding the triangle offense or his Zen-like teachings.
“He’s a guy who’s a great manager of individual and egos,” said Gasol, who played for Jackson from 2008 to 2011. “He will and get the best out of each individual and front office and for their team. He’s a guy who has great knowledge of the game and is a great leader and commands a lot of respect and his intelligence.”
That’s why Gasol has kept in touch with Jackson regularly until recently.
“I can’t talk to each other from now on since I’ll become a free agent and he’s an executive for another team,” said Gasol, who downplayed whether Jackson’s presence in New York could entice him to sign there. “Under the rules, we can’t communicate and he can be penalized.”
That’s why Jackson’s looming presence provided an inescapable shadow, an unattainable standard and a roaring chant that bounces off the Staples Center walls anytime the Lakers further sink into mediocrity. It also did not help matters that the Lakers passed up Jackson in favor or Mike D’Antoni to replace Mike Brown five games into last season.
“You follow a great coach like he was and what he meant to the franchise,” said D’Antoni, who added he has had no relationship with Jackson over the years. “That’s there. You accept it and go on and do your job and so he never affected my job day to day. It hasn’t affected what I do or have tried to do. AT the end of the day, it’s interesting times and you deal with it.”
D’Antoni called Jackson a “good man doing a heck of a job.” But D’Antoni also openly wondered how Jackson’s extensive coaching resume that includes a record 11 NBA titles will actually translate into the front office.
“I don’t think one correlates to the other. I think they’re two completely separate jobs,” D’Antoni said. “It’s like turning a great player into a coach. It’s a different job so you don’t know if you can do it or not. I think obviously he has a good basketball mind. He’ll put it at a different way. We’ll see if it works out. There’s a lot of great qualities there so there’s no reason it doesn’t. But there’s no reason it does. We’ll see what happens.”
D’Antoni, who coached the New York Knicks from 2008 to 2012, also sounded mindful of the dynamic Jackson may encounter with the Knicks. The owner, James Dolan, has cast a reputation as a heavy-handed meddler that values brown nosers over the indepently-minded. For all his success, Jackson has had front office clashes with the Bulls’ Jerry Reinsforf and Jerry Krause and the Lakers’ Jerry West and Jim Buss.
The Knicks also face plenty of uncertainty, ranging from its bloated payroll, Carmelo Anthony’s pending free agency and underachieving in a sub-par Eastern Conference.
“It’s a big job for anywhere. I don’t just think New York,” D’Antoni said. “It’s a big job anymore to turn it around. You have to look at the cap room and what they have and how quick they can do it. Can you get lucky. There’s a lot of things. I know there will be a lot of effort put into it with good and sound decisions and you hope I’m not a Knick. But if it helps out for them. It’s a tall order for anybody, anywhere at anytime. This league is not easy to get on top. We know in New York, you either win it or you’re a failure.”
Plenty of Lakers fans have considered D’Antoni a failure during his two seasons here.
Even when accounting for injuries, Dwight Howard, Gasol and Kobe Bryant initially resisted to his fast-paced system. Gasol and Bryant still have reservations how D’Antoni has handled an injury riddled roster full of role players. Does Gasol ever wonder what would have happened had the Lakers hired Jackson instead?
“I don’t wonder about it at all,” said Gasol, who, among many, wished Jackson returned for his third stint with the Lakers. “That’s not what happened. It would be a waste of time and dwell on that and wonder about it. I know it would’ve been different.”
“Where should I start?” Gasol said coyly.