Phil Jackson is now the president of the New York Knicks. What are some of the biggest challenges facing the Zen Master as he tends a new Garden? Our 5-on-5 panel weighs in.
1. Did the Knicks choose the best man for the job?
Chris Broussard, ESPN The Magazine: Yes. This was a great hire by the Knicks. That's no guarantee that it'll work, but it's worth a try. What do the Knicks have to lose? If it doesn't work, it's just more of the same. They needed someone with a winning pedigree to make them attractive to players around the league.
Dave McMenamin, ESPNLosAngeles.com: It's certainly a worthy gamble, betting on the man who has seemingly unlocked the spiritual code associated with winning. With the Knicks willing to put up $12 million a year, they could have hired just about any executive they wanted to. Why not make a run at Sam Presti or Mitch Kupchak -- proven general managers in this league -- before going with Jackson?
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: I've worked my way up to a solid maybe. But probably only if you buy into the theory that only someone with Phil's stature and pedigree can finally get Jim Dolan to step back and let the basketball people make some decisions. It's pretty insulting, given Phil's résumé, that so many of us on the outside -- and I include myself among the skeptics -- have been so dismissive of Phil's ability to surround himself with good people and assemble a winning organization. That skepticism, though, doesn't merely stem from the fact that Phil hasn't done any meaningful personnel work since his CBA days back in Albany. It stems from the fact that Phil has never been collaborative with the front-office folks he worked with when he was winning championships.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: No. The executives who have done the best job in the league over the last decade include Pat Riley, R.C. Buford, Sam Presti, Donnie Nelson, Danny Ainge and Mitch Kupchak. Jackson has been on teams that have made great executive-level moves, but he has not personally made them. I'd feel the same way if, say, Buford was hired to coach the Knicks. He's watched Gregg Popovich for two decades, but it doesn't mean he could do it himself.
Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPNNewYork.com: Yes. There are more experienced and qualified executives who could have been lured away from other teams for this kind of money and could set the Knicks in the right direction and build the right way. But Phil is the best man because he brings the kind of credibility no one else can bring, with 11 championship rings as a coach and his Knicks background as a player.
2. What is Phil Jackson's biggest challenge as president of the Knicks?
Broussard: Attracting free agents. With tons of cap room in 2015, the Knicks could rebuild quickly. Phil has to come up with a plan that players believe in.
McMenamin: James L. Dolan. There's something the pair have in common -- they've both already had run-ins with management, Jackson as a coach and Dolan as an owner. There will be a desire by Jackson to bring his career full circle with a championship in New York as an exec after capturing the first of his 13 rings there as a player, so maybe he'll have more patience with Dolan than he had with the Jerrys -- Krause and West -- in the past. There will be a desire by Dolan to make this very public hiring pay off. So maybe it works.
Stein: Dolan. And Dolan. And a little more Dolan. Let's take the leap of giving the guy with 11 rings some credit and consider the possibility that he has a vision for building a winning organization from a perch other than the bench. Let's also remember that the Knicks aren't going to be in cap hell forever and have the ability to spend their way out of mistakes -- such as the squandering of all those draft picks -- because they're swimming in revenue streams only the Lakers can match. The problem that dwarfs all those issues and assumptions is Dolan's presence and famed penchant for meddling. Dolan wants us to believe that Phil can be his Pat Riley, but there's no hope of that happening if Jackson isn't empowered by his owner like Riles has been in Miami. The Dolan factor can't be overstated here.
Windhorst: He has no cap space, no draft picks, limited trade assets until the summer of 2015 and a roster of mostly underperforming players. This is a bad hand for any executive. It's a pretty big challenge to turn that into a contender, much less a champion.
Youngmisuk: Doing what he wants to do, and he needs to do it with Dolan's full support and patience. Dolan needs to give Jackson space and time to do whatever he needs to do to turn the Knicks around. It may take some time as well. Dolan obviously has to sign off on every decision as the owner. But he has to stay in the background and let Phil do his thing.
3. Who's the best coaching candidate for the Knicks?
Broussard: I like Steve Kerr. He's a great communicator, he's a champion, and he understands Phil's strategies and philosophies, not to mention those of Gregg Popovich. If Phil is going to implement his philosophies throughout the organization, he'll need a coach who understands them and can be an extension of him on the sidelines.
McMenamin: Phil. If he is going to groom a successor such as Steve Kerr or Scottie Pippen, Jackson's best chance for making him hit the ground running is to have that guy sit with him on the bench for a season or two and impart the Knicks with his greatest strength, which is his coaching.
Stein: I'm going to resist the temptation to say Phil, because the Knicks don't have the sort of win-now team that Phil has always been able to nudge to greater heights. I know the Lakers weren't in a win-now place when Jackson came back in 2005-06, but the man is 68 and has a lot of on-the-job learning to do with this new presidential stuff to be coaching on top of it. Based on the notion that Phil wants to bring in a young coach he can mentor, Steve Kerr really does sound ideal. I think he has the potential to vibe with players much like Jeff Hornacek has in Phoenix ... along with the self-confidence to be able to stand up for himself in the media cauldron that is Gotham. You can't just throw Phil and Kerr together and expect another Riles-and-Erik Spoelstra tag team, because the Miami duo worked together for years before Spoelstra moved into the hot seat. But it's a pairing with potential.
Windhorst: Phil Jackson. He's one of the greatest coaches of all time and he doesn't have a coaching job. But if not him, it is probably going to have to be someone who is familiar with and dedicated to running the triangle, because it seems likely that the Knicks will transition to that system. Steve Kerr, who played well in the triangle as a player for Jackson, makes sense, but this is a grisly and high-pressure job, and Kerr might be able to do much better elsewhere.
Youngmisuk: Phil may bring in one of his disciples, and Steve Kerr is a popular name. He will need somebody who can enforce his philosophy on a daily basis with players. Somebody who will be able to endure a potentially tough season next year until the Knicks can get cap space to go after stars. Phil will also need a coach who can handle the New York media and the inevitable questions about whether Phil will coach the team if the Knicks hit hard times or end up getting some big stars and eventually become a contender.
4. Should Carmelo Anthony stick with the Knicks?
Broussard: Yes. I believe Melo wants to stay in New York -- because of the money and the stage. Phil gives the Knicks a legit chance to attract better players, and he can help Melo become a better player, just as he did with his superstars of the past.
McMenamin: Yes. Just three short years ago, Anthony proclaimed that landing on the Knicks was a "dream come true" at his introductory press conference. Even if Melo says that the extra $33 million in guaranteed money he would pull in with New York over any other place is not his main incentive, keeping that dream alive should be.
Stein: Not automatically. If there's a team he can join this summer that immediately puts him in championship contention, he needs to look at it strongly if he cares about his image, legacy, etc. Much like LeBron in the summer of 2010, Melo needs to start doing some serious winning right away. And I've started to believe, more and more, that he sees it the same way after the interview he did earlier this season when he applauded LeBron for teaming up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh like he did. I'm starting to think Melo wants to find starry sidekicks of his own more than he wants the $130 million that only the Knicks can offer. I still believe Melo would prefer to stay in New York if all things were equal, because he genuinely loves the place and leaving the MSG stage would be a painful admission of failure, but he needs to win -- after getting out of the first round just three times in his first 10 seasons -- more than anything.
Windhorst: Anthony should absolutely not opt out of his contract, which would be a smart monetary move as well as a strategic move. Not only does it make way more sense to wait until 2015 to be a free agent, but that would give Jackson a year to improve the Knicks with the deadline of knowing his free agency is coming as motivation.
Youngmisuk: If Anthony wants to win a title now, then he should leave and try to join forces with another star or two and go somewhere like Los Angeles with the Clippers or Houston or Chicago. But if that is not possible, Melo should stay and see if Phil can make him a better player. Just being around Phil and his disciples and way of thinking could be a good thing for Melo's game.
5. Will the Knicks win a title during Phil Jackson's tenure as president?
Broussard: No. They'll be good, they'll be relevant and they'll contend. But I don't think they'll win a ring.
McMenamin: No. Look at it like Theo Epstein's going to the Chicago Cubs. While both Epstein and Jackson already accomplished the impossible -- Epstein by building the Red Sox team that broke Boston's baseball championship drought; Jackson by turning three of the most talented individual players of all time in Jordan, Kobe and Shaq into team guys -- the Cubs and Knicks are entirely different animals.
Stein: No. I'm resisting the widespread urge to project a train wreck here, because Phil has achieved too much in this game to be written off instantaneously, but you're going to have to sneak me a peek what this roster looks like a year or two from now before we can seriously engage in some title talk.
Windhorst: I'd bet no, if for no other reason than having big names and deep pockets hasn't worked for the franchise for the last 40 years. There's no reason to assume a big name and deep pockets will make a difference now.
Youngmisuk: I don't think he will be able to win a title only because I don't think Jackson will make it to the end of his contract with the Knicks. I think things will end up badly between Jackson and Dolan, but the hope for Knicks fans is that before that happens, Jackson can lure some stars to the Garden and have a foundation built to the point where the Knicks have a roster that can contend.
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst cover the NBA for ESPN.com. Chris Broussard writes for ESPN Insider. Dave McMenamin writes for ESPN Los Angeles. Ohm Youngmisuk writes for ESPN New York.
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