As rumors swirled about the possible arrival of legendary head coach Phil Jackson to the front office, the home team deftly dispatched the swooning 76ers, 123-110, as if they were trying to impress their likely soon-to-be head honcho.
Jackson, who has not been with an NBA franchise in any official capacity since the end of the 2010-11 season when he was coaching the Lakers, has suffered through many physical maladies that include chronic hip and knee problems. But according to the Hall of Fame coach, he’s yearning to try his hand at running a franchise from the front office.
A winner of 11 titles as a head coach with the Bulls and Lakers, Jackson has previously shot down feelers to coach the Knicks, but is rumored to be “close” to joining the franchise to run basketball operations, according to multiple sources.
Current general manager Steve Mills has reportedly offered the position, so now the ball is in the legend’s court.
Swingman J.R. Smith, who had 22 points in a rare start, was the only player to publicly opine about Jackson in the postgame locker room, quipping he hasn’t paid attention “at all” to the Jackson rumors, as he’s “only been watching the Golf Channel.”
Jackson has publicly stated numerous times he would like to move into a front office and run a team, like Pat Riley does with the Heat. Jackson was set to join a proposed-team in Seattle’s front office last offseason until the Kings reached a deal to stay in northern California. He recently served as a consultant for the Pistons, who fired head coach Maurice Cheeks last month after just 50 games.
No one knows if the 68-year-old Jackson will have the desire and stamina to grind as the overseer of operations, but the Knicks are a desperate lot and will do anything to right the ship. Owner Jim Dolan, who is never available for comment, is yearning for Jackson to follow in the footsteps of his late mentor, Red Holzman, who was the last Knicks head coach to win a title in 1973.
Head coach Mike Woodson did not divulge his true feelings during his postgame press conference. Woodson has publicly handled the Jackson whirlwind with grace so far, but he had a bit of an edge to him during his pregame press conference, as most of the questions centered around Jackson’s pending arrival and the seeming inevitability of a shakeup.
“Until someone tells me that we’re mathematically out of the playoffs, I’ll continue coaching this team and we’ll continue fighting,” Woodson said, sounding almost defiant when asked about the Jackson rumors. “Again, guys, I really don’t have an opinion on it. I’m still the coach of the New York Knicks and I’m not going to entertain anything about that. ... I’m just trying to get this team to play at a high level with games tonight, then [at] Boston [Wednesday] and then Saturday [against the Bucks].”
After the game, Woodson only answered questions about the Sixers game. The coach has been under fire for most of the season — and even more so under the microscope as the Knicks dropped seven straight games prior to this current four-game winning streak. But Woodson arrived at the dais smiling and eager to answer questions about Monday night’s win and the team’s current race to the eighth and final playoff spot.
“All we care about is taking it one game at a time, and focusing on winning each game,” said Woodson. “And from a coaching standpoint I’m happy as hell [about everyone’s mindset]. We’re not quitting. They’re fighters and they believe in one another.”
Knicks notes ...
»Knicks assistant general manager Allan Houstonsaid while he’s been kept abreast of the Jackson affair, he’s reticent to comment publicly. He instead tossed verbal bouquets at Jackson as an accomplished coach.
“Everyone has respect for one of the greatest coaches,” Houston said at a Monday afternoon press conference in Westchester to introduce the team’s new D-League affiliate next season that will be based in White Plains. “I’ve played for wonderful coaches and I’ve learned a lot from all of them. I’ve played [and] worked with a lot of great people, personnel [and] coaches. I’m a sponge, so that anybody that I work with I’m going to learn from.”
»Carmelo Anthony, who was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, finished with 22 points in just three quarters of work.
»The Sixers have now lost their eighth straight game on the road and 17th straight overall. And at their gruesome 15-48 mark they’re only two games ahead of the Bucks in the loss column for the worst mark in the league.
»Tyson Chandler was not with the team Monday night due to personal reasons. Amar’e Stoudemire got the start and filled in nicely as he was active on both ends of the floor and was able to stay with the younger and quicker Sixers pivots. Philadelphia also went with a small lineup by starting former Knicks camp invitee Henry Sims. Stoudemire played 30 minutes and shot a scorching 9-of-10 from the field for 23 points.
»Rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. broke through with a fine performance as he notched a game-high 28 points, including 11 in the first half when the Knicks needed a spark as the Sixers stayed competitive in forcing a tie at the break. Hardaway connected on five 3-pointers in 29 minutes of action.
»Rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams was the lone bright spot for the downtrodden Sixers as he notched a triple-double of 23 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. The rebounds and assists were game-highs.
»The Knicks signed both swingman Shannon Brown and forward Earl Clark to second 10-day contracts.
»The Knicks are 3 1/2 games behind the Hawks for the eighth and final playoff spot and have temporarily leapt past the Pistons and Cavaliers in the conference standings.
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.