Would Phil Jackson ditch the New York Knicks to return home with the Los Angeles Lakers?
It might not be as outlandish as some would think.
The Knicks are in a world of hurt right now, having canned head coach Derek Fisher after falling well out of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference by way of losing nine out of their last 10 games. This throws Jackson under the spotlight, one apparently with a purple and yellow tint thanks to the situation with the Lakers, another rebuilding contender.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, there is a “strong belief” Jackson might head back west and rejoin the Lakers:
There’s still a strong belief Jackson will eventually find his way to his fiancée Jeanie Buss and the Los Angeles Lakers. Walton will be competing with Thibodeau for the Lakers job in the spring, and who knows: Jackson and Walton could be reunited there.
Well all right then.
This is a somewhat new notion in large part spiked by the fact Jackson just let go of a head coach and Golden State Warriors assistant coach Luke Walton is the hottest name on the market. With Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and others set to hit the market over the next few summers, each and every move gets met with a bit of expectation as rebuilding franchises attempting to set themselves up to land a superstar.
It’s only natural the Knicks and Lakers headline such a conversation. Ditto for Jackson—especially with Jackson clutching an opt-out clause, as Frank Isola of the Daily News pointed out:
Jackson has an opt-out clause in his contract this summer that could make him a free agent and available to return to what he really loves; the Lakers, his beach house and Jeanie Buss. Not necessarily in that order, of course.
It’s a big “what if” scenario. It’s also had a bit of reinforcement from ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, as captured by Tommy Beer of BasketballInsiders.com:
Stephen A: “If (Jeanie Buss) does that, you know she’s gonna bring Phil back. And I think Dolan will let him out of his deal to go to LA.”
— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) February 8, 2016
It’s important to remember that one of the main motivating factors in this ordeal, Jeanie Buss, spoke with Bleacher Report last November about her hopes of Jackson one day possibly returning to the Lakers via a spot in the front office. Marc Berman of the New York Post transcribed her thoughts:
I’m not going to say that was not always my hope at some point. But it was made clear to me by my brother [Jim] and [GM] Mitch Kupchak, we didn’t need any more voices involved with the Lakers, that they felt they had everything under control. I respect that, but had to respect Phil’s desire to work again. He had to pursue whatever made him happy.
Good luck figuring this one out. Jackson has plenty of reasons to be content with the Knicks. It’s New York, for one. Two, he’s finally slogged through the salary-cap purgatory and has a nice one-two punch in Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis that might help draw other superstars to town. Wojnarowski’s writeup even mentioned Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook having an interest.
On the flip side, the Lakers have a nice young core with Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell with another high pick on the way. They can also chase most any big-name free agents the Knicks could. The personal bonuses fueling these rumblings in the first place certainly don’t hurt.
Again, good luck with this one. Jackson has his pick of the league’s two most historic franchises. Will he come full circle and return to the Lakers? Or finish what he has impressively started with the Knicks? In a time when free agents demand all the attention, Jackson sits atop the mountain with the future of the league and balance of power swinging in the balance.