As I write this, the evening sun is beginning to fall over the Pacific Ocean, about 50 boat slips from Phil Jackson’s home beyond the marina. Um, is he absolutely certain he wouldn’t rather be in California right about now, permanently, without the inevitable failures awaiting him in New York? His first of many obstacles surfaced when, in something of a shock, his publicly desired No. 1 coaching candidate, Steve Kerr, rejected Jackson and the Knicks and took $25 million to coach the Golden State Warriors.
For Kerr, the decision makes too much sense. Who needs the hassle of demanding media and fan expectations in New York — where the team stinks, Jackson’s free-agency whims are locked in bad-contract paralysis until 2015 and Carmelo Anthony may bolt to Chicago or Houston this summer — when the Warriors present a ready-made, 51-victory coaching wet dream with a compelling young star in Steph Curry and one of pro basketball’s most exciting teams? Plus, Kerr’s daughter goes to Cal-Berkeley, a few BART stops from Oracle Arena, and his family home is in San Diego, a 90-minute flight opposed to a six-hour flight to New York. Maybe Jackson can handle a 3,000-mile relationship with his sweetie, Lakers boss Jeanie Buss, but Kerr would prefer a more sane family arrangement, thank you.
“They have a good young team. The location is ideal,” Kerr told NBA.com. “My daughter goes to Cal and plays volleyball. My oldest son is in college in San Diego and our youngest is a junior in high school. It’s just a short flight for them.”
And Phil? “I told Phil, `I think I have to pursue this other opportunity,’ ” Kerr said. “He gave me his blessing. He said go look at it, and do what was in my heart. “Ultimately, it was agonizing to say no to Phil because of what I think of him and what he’s done for my career. When Phil Jackson asks you to coach the Knicks, how do you say no? I think they’re going to turn it around, but going to be a big undertaking and it’s going to take time. The idea of doing that 3,000 miles from home, it just didn’t feel right.”
So, now what, almighty Zenmaster? Foreign to the concept of not getting what he wants, the man with 11 coaching championship rings now must deal with being snubbed by a longtime confidante who never has coached a team on any level. If Kerr preferred Golden State’s five-year offer to the Knicks’ four years, then Jackson faces questions of whether the problematic boss who promised he wouldn’t mettle, owner James Dolan, allowed himself to be outbid by Warriors owner Joe Lacob. Maybe Kerr, a California boy at heart, just preferred Golden State for all reasons after Mark Jackson was fired by last week. But in a New York way of thinking, a sports team never, ever should be outmaneuvered for a coach by an outfit called the Golden State Warriors. They probably think it’s a roller derby team.
They should do their homework. The Warriors, despite their insensitive and suspect firing of Mark Jackson, are a real outfit. “”Yes, it’s true, (Kerr) has not coached before,” Lacob told USA Today. But this is what management is all about. You have to be able to pick people, and he is incredibly prepared. … every detail you can imagine. He knew our roster in and out. He had assistant coaches he wanted to go after. It was like a tour de force.
“Look, at the end of the day I know he knows a lot about basketball. We’re taking a little bit of a risk on his coaching ability, but we did that with Mark and it worked. So it’s just about finding the right fit for the organization and a guy who has extremely high potential, is a hard worker and is very prepared. That’s what we have got.”
The Kerr hiring comes after Stan Van Gundy nixed the Warriors to take a power-bloated position with the struggling Detroit Pistons. Perhaps best known in recent months for his regular stints on my national radio program — he was senior basketball analyst at the NBC Sports Radio Network — Van Gundy decided to take a slight pay hike and accept a $35 million over five years to coach AND manage the team as president of basketball operations. The good news is, if someone tried to deliver a him-or-me ultimatum as Dwight Howard tried in Orlando, Van Gundy can ship his ass out instead of getting fired. The bad news? Other than young big man Andre Drummond, the Pistons are a no-cohesion mess on the court and haven’t been relevant in the Detroit area or in the NBA for years.
Continuing the wave of hiring once-veteran guards as virgin coaches — first Jackson, then Jason Kidd, now Kerr — perhaps Jackson is eyeing a familiar face on the Oklahoma City Thunder bench. Derek Fisher has a coaching future if he wants it, and just as Jackson wanted to impart his wisdom to a respected former player such as Kerr, Fisher would fit the same philosophical mold. But there’s an issue. The Lakers, too, are taking their time hiring a coach and might be waiting for Fisher.
That means Phil and Jeanie, sitting in the tree, C-O-M-P-E-T-I-N-G.
What if she wins after not having a job in the Lakers organization for her fiancee?
Sure you still want that Knicks job, Zendude?