As Phil Jackson headed for the elevator inside the Four Seasons hotel in Boston last Saturday, the last question lobbed his way was more personal in nature than professional.
"So," I asked the 11-time champion coach after our interview over breakfast had come to an end, "am I going to see you soon or not?"
He grinned, then offered a definitive statement that shouldn't soon be forgotten.
"We'll see," he said. "I don't want to be on the sidelines. That's for damned sure."
Unbeknownst to me at the time, Jackson already had met with the New York Knicks. A person with knowledge of the situation confirmed the meeting to USA TODAY Sports, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the talks that were first reported by ESPN.
Now, the New York Daily News is reporting that Jackson is mulling over an offer to join the Knicks' front office.
And with that, the Phil Jackson Pandora's box is open for business again.
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My strong sense at the time was that Jackson wouldn't have agreed to do the interview unless this was part of a bigger play, and sure enough he left plenty of crumbs on the trail of his potential return from retirement during our discussion. The aforementioned declaration that he didn't want to coach was the biggest, as Jackson didn't hesitate to make widely known what it appears he told the Knicks in their meeting.
But there was this doozy, too, one that was almost immediately picked up by writers in New York who have learned to decode Jackson's dialect as well as anyone.
"There are winners and losers in the NBA, and a lot of people are trying to reclaim their position or change their culture or whatever," Jackson, who played 10 seasons for the Knicks and was part of their 1973 championship team, had said. "So yeah, there is (opportunity). I've had conversations. Some of them are feelers. 'Are you interested?' type of thing."
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It's not just about whether Jackson is interested, though; it's a matter of what — specifically — it is that interests him. He wants to do more than the typical Zen Master stuff, to have a say in personnel and play a role when it comes to building the culture and the infrastructure. Jackson's preferred blueprint is no secret at this point. The nature of his potential involvement with the Seattle situation that never came to pass should serve as a window into his mind at this point of his career.
With Mike Woodson still in place as coach of the Knicks, the mere fact that Jackson would meet with the Knicks was as good a sign as any that his intent was to discuss roles other than the one that takes place, well, on a sideline. He's testing these waters all over the place, it seems, to see what's available to him.
And while we wait for clarity on the New York front, the Detroit issue that Jackson discussed at length is, the person close to the situation said, most certainly worth watching going forward as well. Jackson, who has served as an unpaid consultant to Pistons owner, friend and fellow Los Angeles resident Tom Gores and embattled general manager Joe Dumars, went out of his way to make it clear that Dumars made the decision to hire since-fired coach Maurice Cheeks.
This is yet another relevant clue, because Jackson's initial job description when this news broke in May was, as the headline read on the Pistons' official website, "to advise on coach search." Fast forward 10 months, and Dumars is now widely believed to be on his way out and Gores is almost-assuredly considering how much control he might give Jackson were they to take this partnership to the next level.
And just to take this Pistons theory yet another step forward, feel free to connect these dots from the interview as well: When asked which coach is currently unemployed that shouldn't be, he answered with … Larry Brown. Never mind that the former Pistons coach who led Detroit to the title in 2004 is currently employed at Southern Methodist; this is the name Jackson chose. And by the way, Jackson would later go on to wax poetic about how the media is too tough on owners who decide to hire so-called retread coaches, as well as why teachers like himself and Brown are so effective (For those who wondered, I didn't mention Brown's short tenure as Knicks coach because that possibility seems implausible given the nature of his exit and his dynamic with owner James Dolan).
There's clearly no clarity about what lies ahead for Jackson. There is, however, more evidence than ever that Jackson remains the most interesting man in this world. The Dos Equis guy has nothing on him.
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When it comes to free agents-to-be such as LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and the like, the possibilities are seemingly endless. That's especially true in early March, when all the questions about how each scenario might actually come to pass don't necessarily need answers yet because, well, it's early March.
So this week, the Anthony-to-the-Chicago Bulls scenario stole all the headlines when the New York Knicks star was reported to have plotted a possible partnership with Bulls big man Joakim Noah at All-Star weekend in New Orleans.
Yet one person with knowledge of the discussion told USA TODAY Sports that the extent of the talks were overblown and even intimated that Anthony's camp may have made a point to share their chat with the world as a way to remind the Knicks he is considering leaving that extra contract year and about $30 million behind by leaving New York this July. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the talks.
That's not to discount the possibility of Anthony landing with the Bulls, though they don't have the necessary salary cap space to sign Anthony and would need to make a number of moves to make this happen. No, it's only to point out that player politics will be part of this puzzle from here until July and much of what will transpire will need to be interpreted.
Case in point: the reported Jackson offer from the Knicks being leaked could – and we're spitballing here – be interpreted as their way of making sure Anthony knows that they're considering the biggest and the best in this business if it means he'll stick around.
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SLOAN AFTERTHOUGHT: Morey's success helps things
One analytics-minded fellow at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston last weekend posited this hypothetical: What if the Houston Rockets and their analytics-poster-boy, general manager Daryl Morey, were a terrible team at the moment? Would the event that continues to grow in size and relevance lose some of its luster? The answer, from Morey himself, is yes.
"Obviously our goal is to win and win championships, so if all the investment we've put in, that our owner has funded, didn't yield any results it would be a problem," Morey told USA TODAY Sports during the event. "There's a lot of luck involved in sport, and we've had our share of good and bad, but I do think it would affect the tone if there were teams that were having success obviously using analytics."
Luckily for Morey, the Dwight Howard- and James Harden-led Rockets are a robust 42-19, and he is being widely celebrated as the man who made it happen.
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In light of our piece on officiating and how new Commissioner Adam Silver plans to be more transparent than ever, we highly recommend following the company of one of the story's subjects, John Ball. His team's account takes a consistent look at the referee topic is becoming less taboo to talk about every day.
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