Knicks and Lakers pursuing Phil

It seems inevitable that Phil Jackson will be back on the NBA sidelines in 2005, but what team he’ll be coaching is very much still in question. Jackson has already met with Lakers owner Jerry Buss and, reports say, Knicks president Isiah Thomas, and now a meeting with the “uncoachable” Kobe Bryant is next. Although it has yet to be reported, you’ve got to think Cavs owner Dan Gilbert is somewhere on Jackson’s list as well, with several NBA analysts saying the former Lakers and Bulls head coach will ultimately have to decide between LA, New York and Cleveland. ESPN’s Mark Kreidler, meanwhile, sets Jackson’s asking price at a steep $10 million per year.

So where’s the Zen Master going to end up? Call it wishful thinking if you want, but I honestly see the Cavaliers coming out on top in this one. The Knicks are a mess — no cap room, a selfish point guard and an absolute train wreck of a roster. I just don’t see it happening. And while I’m sure Jackson’s interest in the Lakers is genuine, considering his familiarity with the franchise (not to mention his familiarity with the owner’s daughter, Jeanie Buss), I have a hard time believing that Jackson’s turbulent relationship with Kobe, whom Jackson called out in his tell-all book “The Last Season,” can so easily be repaired. He called the kid uncoachable, for crying out loud, and gave the Lakers an ultimatum: trade Kobe or I’m gone. We all know how that one turned out. So what’s changed in the last year? The Lakers are a mess, sure, which no doubt strokes Phil’s ego, but if he couldn’t make it work with Kobe before why would he assume he could make it work now?

And why even take on that headache when you’ve got someone better than Kobe waiting for you in Cleveland? LeBron’s unselfish. LeBron doesn’t come with the baggage that Kobe brings. LeBron won’t give Phil nightly migraines. LeBron actually makes his team better by getting his teammates involved in the offense rather than trying to be the offense. LeBron is the best young player in the game and in another year or two, he may very well be the league’s best player period. How could Phil pass that up? Some say Gilbert stands as a potential deterrent, but if he was able to land Jackson he’d keep his trap shut and let his new Hall-of-Fame coach run the team. Plus, the Cavaliers have the kind of cap room that’ll allow them to make a much-needed splash in free agency. ESPN’s Michael Wilbon and Tim Legler, among others, say Jackson will choose LeBron over Kobe. Let’s hope they’re right.

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