Jerry Krause on Phil Jackson’s New York Knick gig: ‘He took the job for the money’

Jerry Krause on Phil Jackson

Phil Jackson is being paid $12 million a year to act as the president of the New York Knicks. The former Knick forward and 11-time championship coach of the Bulls and Lakers uprooted from the Malibu furnishings he’s called home since 1999 to help save the franchise he won two titles with as a player.

Those Knicks have yet to win a title since Jackson and his teammates earned a ring in 1973. The Knicks are currently working with the NBA’s worst record, and there is genuine concern as to how this lacking roster is going to win a single game in the wake of the news that Carmelo Anthony is going to sit out the final 29 games of the season after having knee surgery.

Since the beginning of New York’s courtship of Jackson, led by entertainment industry power brokers and performed on both coasts, many have concluded that the only reason Jackson returned to the scene of the crime at Madison Square Garden was because of that $12 million a year. One particular voice however, coming to this typical conclusion, is a little different. The man behind it is Jerry Krause, the man who helped save Phil Jackson from a life away from basketball in the mid-1980s, the man who acted as Chicago’s general manager and Jackson’s boss with the Bulls during the title-winning years, and the man who frequently clashed with Jackson in the final years of the Bulls’ dynasty.

From a talk with Ian O’Connor at ESPN New York, who asked Krause if he was surprised at the Knicks’ miserable season:

“I’m not surprised at all,” Krause said by phone Wednesday night. “I knew Phil had a bad ballclub. If [James] Dolan offered him $2 million a year or even $5 million, he wouldn’t have taken it. But $12 million is overwhelming. Phil didn’t take the job because he thought he had a playoff club. He took the job for the money.”
Well, yeah.

It’s just fine to take a job for money. Jackson has had myriad hip and back surgeries and even a heart scare over the last decade, he is 69 years old and his fiancée, Jeanie Buss, is not going to leave her post as the boss of business operations with the Los Angeles Lakers to join him permanently in New York. Money had to talk in this situation, and even after over a decade of mostly futility, the Knicks can still print money.

Is Jackson supposed to move into Atlanta to take over after Danny Ferry’s implosion or stage a coup in Milwaukee to work for one-sixth as much … just ‘cause?

Of course, Krause might not even be taking shots, here. He’s just being accurate in pointing out that Jackson is not going to uproot a too-comfortable lifestyle and family situation in Los Angeles in order to put his reputation on the line for $2 million. Put another one in front of that, and we’ll discuss things.

Even when the Knicks put that “1” in front of it, Jackson still had to be talked into taking the gig. The Knicks were full of salted crops, Jackson would have had to immediately make a decision on retaining a superstar in Anthony that he probably wasn’t and isn’t a huge fan of (at least not at the price Anthony demands), and he would have had to encourage the team to take on Jackson’s beloved triangle offense from the front office, and not the sideline.

Krause introduced him to that offense, by the way. And Krause is no stranger to the controversies that come from having to deal with an injured superstar on a team bound for the lottery that wants to grit things out and play.

In 1985 Michael Jordan, coming off of a Rookie of the Year season that saw him lead the league in total points, broke his right foot in his team’s third game of the season. Jordan pressed to return early, but worried doctors kept Jordan on the bench as the injury was the same sort of break that befell oft-injured center Bill Walton several times. With the team out of the playoff picture, Jordan accused Krause and the Bulls of tanking for a lottery pick:

“Michael wanted to keep playing, and we had some heated arguments about it,” Krause recalled. “Michael knew his body probably better than any athlete I’ve ever known, but we had five doctors saying he shouldn’t play and so we wouldn’t allow it. We had to protect the player.
“Carmelo is a veteran who knows his body, but Phil should have the final authority. When you delay the surgery like this, the doctors had better do a hell of a job. If the player comes out of it and he’s not the same, then you’ve really got a problem.”
Carmelo, famously, wanted to ride out the season until he could take part in the All-Star Game as the only Knick included the exhibition shown at Madison Square Garden. Even with three decades’ worth of technology advancements, Jordan’s injury remains a frightening one, and a team like the Bulls would probably take the same approach today. Kevin Durant suffered a somewhat similar fracture last year, and the Thunder smartly went slow in their approach to his recovery.

(Jordan’s Bulls didn’t hit the lottery, by the way. Jordan returned for 15 games and his Bulls won six of 10 down the stretch to secure the final playoff spot in the East with 30 wins.)

Another longtime combatant, former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy, also railed against Anthony’s decision. From Randy Miller at NJ.com:

“I totally disagreed with this whole idea that the All-Star Game is so important that we should sit out regular-season games to get ready for the All-Star Game, and now with Anthony’s decision to not only play in the All-Star Game but to end his season,” Gundy said Thursday on ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike show. “I think it’s backwards thinking from these organizations or players. It’s got to be about the team, the team, the team.
“The All-Star Game doesn’t need any specific player. But these teams do need these maximum salary guys.”
Gundy also pointed out that Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler also missed his team’s final game (against Cleveland) before playing in the All-Star Game.
“I also don’t understand guys sitting out the games before the All-Star Game and then playing in the All-Star game,” Van Gundy said. “I don’t get it. I love Jimmy Butler, but I don’t understand not playing against Lebron James and then playing in the All-Star Game.
“To me, some of these decisions are really out of whack from the team concept.”
That is understandable, as Anthony’s knee surgery is set to delay him longer than expected – four to six months – which led some to conclude that his delay may have exacerbated a knee injury that has been bothering him for a year.

All of these sides – the money, the rest, the showcasing – are understandable, though. There is never going to be a set approach with these New York Knicks.

Written by Nick Endress

Nick Endress

Nick the Quick Endress is an avid fan of basketball and hip hop, and a contributing writer with WJS since 2013. Nick has interviewed rappers, ballers, rapper ballers, and baller rappers on the site and continues to preach that the NBA should have a team in Europe. Maybe because Nick currently lives outside London where to them Football is actually played with your feet, can you believe this fatuousness?