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Phil Jackson: Realistic Option In Toronto?
Posted By Stephen Brotherston On April 30, 2013 @ 12:00 pm In NBA | No Comments
Legendary head coach Phil Jackson retired from basketball at the end of the 2010-11 season and he has stayed retired thus far with good reason. At 67 years old, Jackson has been through two hip replacements, a knee replacement and a battle against prostate cancer in March of 2011. It’s not like Jackson needs the money either. Jackson’s estimated worth is $45 million and if he really just wanted a job in an NBA front office, his fiancee Jeanie Buss is running the business side of the Los Angeles Lakers organization. So just how realistic is it for the Toronto Raptors or any other NBA team to hope Jackson would join them in any capacity?
It seems pretty clear that Jackson doesn’t want to coach anymore. Jackson told a TMZ.com reporter on the street that the chances of him coaching the Lakers were “slim and none” and that was something confirmed in a Sports Illustrated interview. In that same SI interview, Jackson did suggest vice president of basketball operations/director of player personnel had some appeal. More recently, Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle reported Jackson’s interest in building an NBA team his way. So, at the very least, it appears Jackson is getting bored and just might get involved with an NBA team once again, as long as it doesn’t involve the rigors of coaching.
While the Lakers would seem to be the logical spot for Jackson to land, the Buss family has other issues to deal with. The Buss estate has to sort through a tax bill that could force the family to sell off part of their ownership in the team. Jim Buss is running the team side of the business and adding his sister’s fiancee to an executive position involving players and coaches is asking for problems during a very stressful period. Jackson would be a popular choice as an executive in Los Angeles, but the timing makes it difficult.
Looking outside of the Lakers, if Jackson wants to recreate the culture and success he enjoyed in Los Angeles, he needs to find an organization with resources that compare to what the Lakers have enjoyed and is looking for a senior level executive to run their team. He also needs an ownership group who will be on the same page as him. This is what has been driving the speculation that Jackson could be headed to Toronto.
Until March of this year, Tim Leiweke was the president and CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) that holds a minority stake in the Lakers and owns the Staples Center among other assets. Leiweke has been a friend of both Jackson and his fiancee for many years. Last week, Leiweke was introduced as the new president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), which owns the Raptors. If Jackson wants a comfort level with his new boss, he isn’t going to do better than joining Leiweke in Toronto.
Leiweke wants to build the Raptors into an organization that rivals the Lakers and the HEAT and he couldn’t move down that path any faster than by hiring Jackson to change the culture. MLSE is one of the most profitable sports empires anywhere and since majority control was purchased by Bell Enterprises and Rogers Communications last summer, the motivation has moved from maximizing cash flow to providing programming for the sports media properties they control. Re-investment of profits back into their sports franchises is their new mantra; Jackson will have resources to work with in Toronto.
Timing in Toronto couldn’t be better as well. Raptors president and general manager Bryan Colangelo’s contract has an option for next season that the team has not picked up yet. Leiweke is assessing Colangelo’s future with the team now, but if Jackson were available, this could make discussions about Colangelo’s future mute.
If Jackson wants to build an NBA team his way, Toronto has a boss he knows will be on the same page as he is, resources to implement an ambitious plan and a job opening. It is a realistic option for both the Raptors and Jackson to consider and Jackson really doesn’t have a lot to choose from. Most teams with resources have a president and/or general manager in place and a small-market team is not going to be able to give Jackson the resources he needs.
However, the speculation about Jackson returning to the NBA at this point is just speculation. The 67-year-old retired NBA guru could wake up one morning very soon and realize he doesn’t need the money, his legs and hips hurt and he would have to leave the bright lights and comfortable lifestyle of Southern California to accomplish his goals. Jackson already has 11 NBA championships. Building a team his way could take three to five years for a chance to win another championship even under ideal circumstances. Whether Jackson wants the pressure of being an NBA executive into his seventies shouldn’t be assumed. Toronto, among other franchises, might want Jackson’s larger-than-life presence and mystique because there’s a belief that he can help them, but the real answer about Jackson’s availability to any team will depend on how strong his desire is to get back in the game.
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