Phil Jackson has returned to the New York Knicks as their team president.
The Knicks announced Jackson’s hiring Tuesday at a news conference in the lobby of Madison Square Garden, where a giant sign reading “Welcome Home Phil” was overhead and shirts with the No. 18 Jackson wore as a player lined the racks in the merchandise store.
Jackson signed a five-year contract that reportedly will pay him at least $12 million annually and said he will spend significant time in New York.
“This is the best place to play basketball,” Jackson said.
Jackson was a member of the Knicks’ championship-winning teams in 1970 and 1973, but they haven’t won a title since. Jackson went on to become the league’s most successful coach, winning 11 championships with the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls.
This will be his first time as an executive and the Knicks say he will be in charge of all basketball decisions. Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan said he “willingly and gratefully” is stepping back to give Jackson the power to make the changes the franchise needs.
Steve Mills will remain as general manager.
It’s the second front-office reorganization in six months for the Knicks, who surprisingly fired GM Glen Grunwald days before the start of training camp after he assembled most of the roster than won 54 games last season. Mills replaced him even though he had no previous experience running the basketball side.
Jackson said he had “no doubt” that Carmelo Anthony could be the centerpiece of the franchise going forward as the All-Star forward prepares to become a free agent this summer.
Jackson will have to decide the future of coach Mike Woodson, who was 72-34 with the Knicks before this season but only 27-40 heading into Wednesday’s game against Indiana. The Knicks probably would have loved it if Jackson were willing to do the job himself – Dolan said the discussion started there when they met at a holiday part of a mutual friend. But Jackson had made it clear since his last stint with the Lakers ended in 2011 that he had no interest in returning to the bench.
Instead he will try to show he can handle the transition to the front office, which won’t be an easy one given the obstacles the Knicks face with their salary cap. Amare Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani will all be in the final year of expensive contracts, giving the Knicks little hope of making quick changes next season.
James said he wouldn’t insist on the triangle offense his teams ran, but made it clear that he believes in the system’s offensive principles. He will discuss with Woodson after the season whether he or some other coach will be brought in to oversee whatever the system is.
Jackson said he didn’t know how much of the day-to-day work he would handle. Alluding to what he estimated is five knee and hip surgeries since he last coached, Jackson said he is “not easily able to move around” on commercial airlines or in gymnasiums.
But he realized he wanted to get back into the game after having discussions last year with the group that tried to buy the Sacramento Kings and move them to Seattle. That fell through, but it wasn’t long until he had the opportunity with the Knicks.
“Now to come back to where I’ve started in basketball, it’s a great feeling,” Jackson said.