Phil Jackson faces many big challenges as Knicks executive


Phil Jackson is back with a new set of challenges and a new role in a new city. What now for the "Zen Master?" What must he tackle to turn the Knicks around?

Phil Jackson is expected to be officially announced as the top executive for the New York Knicks on Tuesday, bringing the "Zen Master" back into the NBA. After stepping away from the association following a disappointing playoff exit with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2010, he's back to a life filled by basketball.

The situation he's stepping into isn't rosy, though. The Knicks are looking to his championship pedigree to help dig them out of their hole and into a brighter future. What are the biggest questions Jackson must answer as he takes over?

Keeping it 'Melo in New York

Jackson will be joining the Knicks at a time when there's not a great deal he can do immediately. The trade deadline has passed and there are only 16 games left in the regular season. The team's 26-40 record has them on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoffs, which is a bad spot for any team paying $88 million in salary.

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Playoffs or not, Jackson can make or break the team's future with Carmelo Anthony, who can opt out of the final year of his deal with the Knicks to test free agency. But New York has brought on a "guiding figure" with championship rings to back up his talk to decide if Anthony is a part of the team's long-term future. Will Jackson want to keep Melo? Will Melo want to stay in New York?

Anthony has already acknowledged he's "heard" Jackson is joining the team and went on to say his insight can help the organization. This season has been disastrous for New York, though, and there's more uncertainty going forward as the team does not have a 2014 first-round draft pick and their team salary tacks on another $2 million next season.

Jackson won't have the flexibility to give the Knicks a massive overhaul this summer. Beyond the '14-15 season, however, the Knicks' salary situation clears up. Should Jackson want to retain Anthony, that future freedom will have to be a selling point to him.

There's plenty of reason for Anthony to consider taking his talents elsewhere as he seeks out a championship contender, but James Dolan landed his "Pat Riley." Jackson certainly can be the pitch man who keeps Anthony in New York for at least one more season ... if he wants to be.

Last name Woodson, first name Mike

Is Mike Woodson the right coach for the Knicks? That's the question Jackson will need an answer before any discussions regarding Anthony's future. There have been rumors that the Knicks and Woodson were preparing for a split, but even as the Knicks have stumbled to a draft-lottery record, they've kept the head coach on board.

Woodson has spoken with media about coaching under Jackson and would love to talk "basketball" with him, but the disappointing downward trend after a 54-win season makes his future with the team a huge question mark. The Knicks' offense is outside of the top 10 in the NBA, and they have the sixth-worst defensive rating. There are major issues that need to be addressed, and starting at the top with the head coach seems logical.

Who could replace Woodson? Good question. There are reports that Jackson would reach out to Steve Kerr to see if he'd like to be a coach, but Kerr has no head coaching experience. Jackson's coaching tree is also slim, as Tom Ziller noted.

There's also the possibility Jackson would serve as head coach initially on top of his other duties. Riley did this with the Miami Heat prior to stepping down and assigning Erik Spoelstra as his replacement.

The rest of the Knicks

Salary space isn't heading the Knicks' way, either. Jackson won't have much, if any, wiggle room to adjust the roster as he sees fit. The team is on track to put out $90 million in salary next season, pending three very lucrative player options for Anthony, Andrea Bargnani and Amar'e Stoudemire.

The Knicks were unable to acquire a point guard at the trade deadline and will still need to find a solution there. Former Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith has turned his season from "despicable" to "very bad" and has been an issue for the Knicks both on and off the court since signing a three-year, $17.9 million contract last summer. If Jackson installs the Triangle offense, he may need more big guards as well.

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There are good pieces in place, though, like Tyson Chandler on an expiring $14 million deal next season and promising rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. If Anthony opts out, there's also the possibility that he would re-sign for less than the maximum so Jackson can build a better roster around him.

Culture shift

The overarching theme of bringing a legendary figure like Jackson into the fold is to establish a new culture at the very top of the franchise. Jackson represents the team's Hail Mary of an attempt to transform the Knicks from the butt end of jokes to an elite franchise in the NBA.

The details of Jackson's specific job description are unclear, but the organization needs stability and a consistent direction. Both Anthony and Woodson spoke about how his insight can immediately help the team, and that's before he'll be officially announced as a member of the franchise.

Can the allure of his "winning" history be enough to swing the perception that New York is currently a "losing" franchise? Will Dolan finally step back and let his top basketball lieutenant do his job without meddling? Nobody knows, but the Knicks are about to find out.

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