Phil: Knicks can challenge for a title

The Knicks' 1972-73 NBA championship team was honored at halftime of Friday's game. Jim O'Connor/USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK -- Good news, New York Knicks fans: Phil has faith.

Phil Jackson said on Friday that the red-hot Knicks had a chance to "challenge" for an NBA title.

"I think they've come a long way in the last two and half weeks. … They're starting to make a run," Jackson said. "I think they're going to challenge. There's a hope in this town that maybe they can surprise some people [and] win this year."

Jackson, who wore his 1995-96 championship ring he won as coach of the Chicago Bulls, was at Madison Square Garden on Friday night to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 1972-73 title team.

He was joined by 11 of the 12 remaining members of the Knicks' championship team, including Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, Walt "Clyde" Frazier and Willis Reed.

Jackson said before the ceremony that he wasn't sure what reaction to expect from the Garden crowd.

Some expected the Knicks faithful to boo Jackson because he called the Carmelo Anthony-Amar'e Stoudemire pairing "clumsy" last summer and, as coach, won 11 NBA titles to keep the Knicks' 40-year title drought alive.

But Jackson received a loud ovation from the crowd during a halftime ceremony.

Beforehand, he declined to answer questions about any future coaching plans.

"I'm not going to talk about that. It's not the time to talk about it," he said.

Jackson was rumored to be a candidate for the Knicks' coaching job last summer. But the team said it never reached out to Jackson and instead decided to hire interim coach Mike Woodson.

Jackson was also rumored to be a candidate for the Lakers job after the team fired Mike Brown earlier this season. Los Angeles hired former Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni instead.

So, will Phil ever coach again?

Frazier told ESPN New York 98.7's "The Michael Kay Show" on Friday that Jackson said he hadn't ruled out a return to the bench.

"He didn't say he wouldn't. It's out there," Frazier said. "I was telling him, 'You're going to waste all this knowledge, you're just going to let it go, you're never going to come back?' He didn't really say no or yes. He was very political about it."