Phil Jackson won 11 championships as an NBA head coach but since walking away from coaching the Los Angeles Lakers there have been persistent rumors that the Zenmaster has been interested in transitioning into a front-office role. He took baby steps in that area this past offseason as he served as an unofficial adviser to the Pistons at the request of Pistons owner and Jackson friend Tom Gores.
Jackson recently spoke to USA Today and in the wide-ranging interview he was surprisingly candid about his role in helping Detroit, his performance and the Detroit team as a whole. Via Eye on Basketball:
Q: With that in mind, the natural question is what does that mean going forward? That was a unique situation, but do you see opportunity elsewhere that you like?
A: There are a few (opportunities), but I shouldn't name them. It wouldn't be right to talk about it, name anything. But yeah, there are some. 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. So yeah, there is. I've had conversations. Some of them are feelers. "Are you interested?" type of thing. I did go out to Detroit last year and sit with (Pistons President) Joe (Dumars). I guess we weren't successful, but I really encouraged (Pistons owner) Tom Gores that the general manager has to be able to pick his coach so they can win it together. And Joe wanted Maurice, so it didn't work out, unfortunately for Maurice. I developed a relationship with the owner, who lives in LA. We have conversations.
Q: So is that still an ongoing relationship?
A: I'm just like an adviser, an unpaid adviser. So far, my advice hasn't been too great (laughs).
Q: Well at least they're not wasting their money on you...
A: Tom is a generous guy, but I really don't want to make him feel like it's more than it is. It's a professional kind of opinion that I have. But I like their chances as they go forward. They had some curious free agent (selections) but I like their young guys. (Andre) Drummond is good.
Let's count up the interesting comments.
- "There are a few (opportunities), but I shouldn't name them." Could one of those be in Detroit and he shouldn't name them because Dumars still has is officially in the driver's seat?
- " ... a lot of people are trying to reclaim their position or change their culture or whatever." Both those scenarios recall Detroit's current position.
- " ... I really encouraged (Pistons owner) Tom Gores that the general manager has to be able to pick his coach ... " Make sure to associate the disastrous coaching decision on the person you'd like to replace, and name names? Check. Completely wash your hand of any involvement in the decision even though you were brought in specifically to advise on a coaching hire? Double check.
- "So far, my advice hasn't been too great." Self deprecating humor while also showing that you're not in complete denial. Endearing.
- "They had some curious free agent (selections)." Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings, you're being called out in the nicest way possible by an 11-time NBA champion. Please consider what this means. Hint, he's basically saying you stink ... at least on this team.
- " ... but I like their young guys. (Andre) Drummond is good." Maybe I'm biased, but I think he's selling Drummond a little short here. On the bright side, the fact that he used plural ("young guys") immediately after bashing (presumably) Josh Smith makes me think he is on #TeamMonroe in the great power forward debate of 2014. And hopefully that means he'd either keep the Drum-roe experiment going or at least trade Monroe for more than 50 cents on the dollar.
So, yeah, most of this was extremely encouraging. Does that mean I'd want Phil Jackson as my lead executive? No way. Maybe it's just a knee-jerk reaction but picking a former head coach is the same to me as picking a former player. I'm just not confident they can be successful when competing against MBA's leveraging Big Data to win every deal and decision on the margins.
Too harsh? Maybe. There's no doubting that Jackson is smart. Still, he is the guy who has apparently been pushing Brian Shaw as head coach and you can ask Denver fans how well that's working out. What say you? Would Jackson be a big step up from Dumars or just too much of the same?