After much speculation and anticipation, Phil Jackson returned to the New York Knicks Tuesday. Forty-one years after winning the franchise’s last NBA championship as a player–and following a benchmark career as an NBA coach–Jackson rejoined the Knicks as president.
It is a move that the team hopes will pull the Knicks out of the year-after-year muck they have been stuck in, a sometimes league laughingstock. Jackson has 11 NBA titles as coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers.
“There is only one Phil Jackson, and he is synonymous with winning basketball teams,” owner James Dolan said in a statement. “His history of success in the NBA is unrivaled, and he is the ideal executive to lead our team and develop short- and long-term plans that build a successful franchise and result in an NBA championship. That is our only goal, and what our loyal fans deserve.
“In addition to the tremendous respect I have for Phil regarding basketball, over the last several months, I have had the opportunity to get to know him personally, and have developed a high regard for his character and passion as an individual. I am confident that he and Steve Mills have the right combination of complementary skills to make this franchise successful.”
Jackson has a five-year deal worth $60 million, and made it clear the team wants to keep free-agent-to-be Carmelo Anthony.
“I have no problem committing to saying Carmelo is in the future plans,” Jackson said.
He also said he would have a conversation with coach Mike Woodson, who most believe will be replaced by Steve Kerr, Brian Shaw or Kurt Rambis–all of whom have ties to Jackson.
Jackson and Mills will report directly to Dolan, the Knicks said. But Dolan and Jackson both noted Tuesday that Jackson will have full autonomy, with Dolan adding he will cede power to Jackson “willfully and gracefully.”
As for this season, the Knicks have won six in a row, but Jackson is taking over a team that has mostly performed well below expectations. New York is 13 games under .500 and in ninth place in the Eastern Conference.
Anthony, who plans to opt out of the final year of his contract this summer, can sign a deal with the Knicks that is one year longer and worth $33 million more than any pact he can sign with another team. He has said that his first priority is to re-sign with the Knicks, but he’d like to sit down with Jackson and discuss the team’s plans for the future before making a decision.