At any given moment, Laker fans are prone to yell “We want Phil,” a constant plea for Phil Jackson to restore championship prosperity back to the struggling franchise.
But it appears unlikely Jackson will hear them first hand when the Lakers (23-46) host the New York Knicks (29-41) tonight at Staples Center. This marks the first time the two teams play each other since Jackson became president of the Knicks’ front office after having an unofficial consulting role last season with the Lakers in part because of his relationship with fiance Jeanie Buss, the Lakers’ president. New York does not expect Jackson to be in attendance at the game, though he was seen in the Knicks’ locker room during morning shootaround at Staples Center.
Jackson respectfully declined to talk when a few reporters approached him in the locker room, but Knicks star Carmelo Anthony emerged from there shortly after speaking with him.
“I’ve seen him here and there. But not a sitdown to talk,” said Anthony, who could opt out of his contract this offseason to become a free agent.
Will the two talk after the game?
“We out of here tonight,” Anthony said. “We’ll figure it out. I’m pretty sure we’ll get together very soon.”
Jackson also is not expected to travel with the Knicks on five-game trip that also includes stops in Sacramento (Wednesday), Phoenix (Friday), Golden State (Sunday) and Utah (Monday). Anthony argued this upcoming stretch “could make or break our season. New York is ranked ninth in the Eastern Conference and trails the Atlanta Hawks (31-38) by 2 1/2 games for the final playoff spot with 12 games remaining.
Jackson’s presence here could spark further intrigue considering the Lakers passed him both to replace coach Mike Brown last season and offer him a front office position despite winning five of his 11 NBA championships here as a head coach.
Jackson lacks any front office experience, but Knicks owner James Dolan signed him to a reported five-year contract worth $60 million for obvious reasons. Jackson has plenty of basketball expertise and cache stemmed from 13 NBA championships, including 11 as a head coach. Jackson won the other two NBA titles when he played for the Knicks from 1967-78.
“It was a clean playing field,” Anthony said. “Mr. Dolan did what he to do to bring him here. I’m sure those guys (the Lakers) had the same opportunity.”
Because of the Knicks’ travel-heavy schedule, New York coach Mike Woodson remains unsure when he will have a substantial conversation with Jackson.
“He was in and out of New York and he came back here and we just got here,” Woodson said. “Hopefully I’ll see him today sometime. I’m sure I will when the time comes.”
Jackson has suggested he would like to reinstate the triangle offense and may hire a coach that matches that vision. But Woodson said he has no sense on how Jackson’s role will affect the Knicks’ future.
“Only time will tell,” Woodson said. “We have to get through this season. I’m sure he’s going to reassess everything and start making some decisions this summer.”