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Tim Dahlberg column: Jackson a Hail Mary that might succeed

  • New York Knicks new team president Phil Jackson, center, poses for photos with team owner James Dolan, left, and general manager Steve Mills, during a news conference where he was introduced, at New York's Madison Square Garden, Tuesday, March 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

    New York Knicks new team president Phil Jackson, center, poses for photos with team owner James Dolan, left, and general manager Steve Mills, during a news conference where he was introduced, at New York's Madison Square Garden, Tuesday, March 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

  • Phil Jackson smiles as he is introduced as the new president of the New York Knicks, Tuesday, March 18, 2014 in New York. Jackson, who won two NBA titles as a player with the Knicks, also won 11 championships while coaching the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

    Phil Jackson smiles as he is introduced as the new president of the New York Knicks, Tuesday, March 18, 2014 in New York. Jackson, who won two NBA titles as a player with the Knicks, also won 11 championships while coaching the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

  • Filmmaker Spike Lee listens as New York Knicks new team president Phil Jackson addresses a news conference where he was introduced, at New York's Madison Square Garden, Tuesday, March 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

    Filmmaker Spike Lee listens as New York Knicks new team president Phil Jackson addresses a news conference where he was introduced, at New York's Madison Square Garden, Tuesday, March 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

  • Former New York Knicks player Walt Frazier, left,  joins Phil Jackson, the newly named president of the Knicks, at a news conference Tuesday, March 18, 2014 in New York. Frazier and Jackson are former teammates with the Knicks. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

    Former New York Knicks player Walt Frazier, left, joins Phil Jackson, the newly named president of the Knicks, at a news conference Tuesday, March 18, 2014 in New York. Frazier and Jackson are former teammates with the Knicks. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

  • New York Knicks new team president Phil Jackson poses for photos during a news conference where he was introduced, at New York's Madison Square Garden, Tuesday, March 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

    New York Knicks new team president Phil Jackson poses for photos during a news conference where he was introduced, at New York's Madison Square Garden, Tuesday, March 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

  • FILE - In this 1971 file photo, New York Knicks' Phil Jackson poses for a photo. Jackson has returned to the New York Knicks as their team president. The Knicks announced Jackson's hiring Tuesday, March 18, 2014, at a news conference in the lobby of Madison Square Garden, where a giant sign reading "Welcome Home Phil" was overhead and shirts with the No. 18 Jackson wore as a player lined the racks in the merchandise store. (AP Photo/File)

    FILE - In this 1971 file photo, New York Knicks' Phil Jackson poses for a photo. Jackson has returned to the New York Knicks as their team president. The Knicks announced Jackson's hiring Tuesday, March 18, 2014, at a news conference in the lobby of Madison Square Garden, where a giant sign reading "Welcome Home Phil" was overhead and shirts with the No. 18 Jackson wore as a player lined the racks in the merchandise store. (AP Photo/File)

  • Phil Jackson smiles as he is introduced as the new president of the New York Knicks, Tuesday, March 18, 2014 in New York. Jackson, who won two NBA titles as a player with the Knicks, also won 11 championships while coaching the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

    Phil Jackson smiles as he is introduced as the new president of the New York Knicks, Tuesday, March 18, 2014 in New York. Jackson, who won two NBA titles as a player with the Knicks, also won 11 championships while coaching the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

  • New York Knicks new team president Phil Jackson, center, poses for photos with team owner James Dolan, left, and general manager Steve Mills, during a news conference where he was introduced, at New York's Madison Square Garden, Tuesday, March 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
  • Phil Jackson smiles as he is introduced as the new president of the New York Knicks, Tuesday, March 18, 2014 in New York. Jackson, who won two NBA titles as a player with the Knicks, also won 11 championships while coaching the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
  • Filmmaker Spike Lee listens as New York Knicks new team president Phil Jackson addresses a news conference where he was introduced, at New York's Madison Square Garden, Tuesday, March 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
  • Former New York Knicks player Walt Frazier, left,  joins Phil Jackson, the newly named president of the Knicks, at a news conference Tuesday, March 18, 2014 in New York. Frazier and Jackson are former teammates with the Knicks. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
  • New York Knicks new team president Phil Jackson poses for photos during a news conference where he was introduced, at New York's Madison Square Garden, Tuesday, March 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
  • FILE - In this 1971 file photo, New York Knicks' Phil Jackson poses for a photo. Jackson has returned to the New York Knicks as their team president. The Knicks announced Jackson's hiring Tuesday, March 18, 2014, at a news conference in the lobby of Madison Square Garden, where a giant sign reading "Welcome Home Phil" was overhead and shirts with the No. 18 Jackson wore as a player lined the racks in the merchandise store. (AP Photo/File)
  • Phil Jackson smiles as he is introduced as the new president of the New York Knicks, Tuesday, March 18, 2014 in New York. Jackson, who won two NBA titles as a player with the Knicks, also won 11 championships while coaching the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

If there’s something James Dolan seems to have finally figured out from his tenure as chairman of the New York Knicks, it’s this: It’s a lot easier to get people to pay their cable bills every month than it is to build a winning franchise in the NBA.

Not that the paranoid owner with the Cablevision cash hasn’t tried. He’s employed a lot of lame schemes to get a winning team at Madison Square Garden, only to watch them disintegrate.

His latest is a $60 million Hail Mary that might actually have a chance of succeeding, assuming Dolan can keep his promise to stay out of basketball operations. Hiring Phil Jackson as president of the franchise isn’t the worst idea in the world, though Knicks fans would surely rather see Jackson coaching.

At the very least it buys Dolan some time. Jackson is now the public face of the franchise and he’ll get a grace period to make sure Carmelo Anthony is happy and Mike Woodson can still coach.

And, really, what does he have to lose? The Zen Master certainly can’t be any worse than Isiah Thomas, a Dolan experiment who nearly ruined what was left of the once proud franchise. At least Jackson comes with some beefy credentials that include 11 NBA titles and a very specific idea on how to run an offense.

“When you have a chance to get Phil Jackson to run your team, you do it – plain and simple,” Dolan said. “Welcome home, Phil.”

Those were words that Knicks fans love to hear. But this was even better:

“By no means am I an expert in basketball,” Dolan said in an admission both stunning and belatedly welcome.

That Jackson was lured to a front-office position with the Knicks wasn’t terribly surprising given the dysfunction that now seems to afflict the Buss family in Los Angeles. The Lakers could have given Jackson what he wanted – should have given him what he wanted – but Kobe Bryant will tell you that the heirs of Jerry Buss can’t seem to make a decision that makes sense.

So he heads across the country for New York even while his heart is still in Southern California. Jackson says he will spend significant time in New York, though it’s not hard to imagine him keeping an eye on the Knicks from the beach house he and his fiancee, Lakers President Jeanie Buss, share on the West Coast – or even in the owner’s suite at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

It’s a strange dynamic, these two team presidents from two storied franchises living with each other. Would make a good reality show, though it’s hard to imagine Jackson selling himself out like a Kardashian.

As a young man he won titles as a player with the Knicks in 1970 and 1973. As an older man he filled his jewelry box with six rings from Michael Jordan’s reign in Chicago and five from Bryant’s stint under him in LA.

What better way to finish off a career as golden as any in the NBA than to restore the Knicks to, at a bare minimum, respectability?

“It would be a capstone on the remarkable career that I’ve had,” Jackson said.

It will, if Dolan does as he says and lets Jackson make the basketball decisions. It will, if Jackson is 25 percent as successful running the team from above as he has been on the court.

It worked for Pat Riley in Miami, with a bit of help from LeBron James. It hasn’t worked for Jordan, who bought a team just so he would have final say but hasn’t delivered a winner yet in Charlotte.

Jackson, though, is smart enough to hire people to figure out salary caps and contract minutia. He’s smart enough to figure out who he wants coaching and who he wants to be coached, and he will stick with a system that has brought him a lot of success.

“I believe in system basketball,” he said. “I came out of a system here. I believe that’s something we want to accomplish here.”

His old jersey is already on sale in the team store, and it won’t take Jackson long to impose his culture. If he can navigate the team’s salary cap issues and get some bloated contracts off the roster, he’s got a chance to remake the team.

If nothing else, his hiring restores some faith among Knicks fans. Tired of Dolan and disillusioned with his decisions, they suddenly have hope.

It may be a $60 million gamble, but the cable money will take care of that. Return the Knicks to their glory days, and Jackson is worth every penny and more.

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