Knicks owner James Dolan is exploring potential successors for team president Phil Jackson, with Raptors GM Masai Ujiri believed to be among them, as Frank Isola of the New York Daily News indicates and as fellow Daily News scribe Stefan Bondy confirms via Twitter. Jackson can opt out of his contract after next season. The Zen Master is currently pushing for a new multiyear deal for Kurt Rambis that would remove the interim tag from his head coaching title, sources tell Marc Stein and Ian Begley of ESPN.com.
Dolan confidant Irving Azoff supports Jackson and is close with Rambis, according to Isola, who points out that Azoff also has ties to Ujiri. Former Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment CEO Tim Leiweke, who brought Ujiri to the Raptors, is a business partner of Azoff, Isola notes.
It would be no shock for Ujiri to become heavily sought after given his success with Toronto, which has already set a franchise record with 52 wins this season and is poised to enter the playoffs as the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, and in Denver, where Ujiri’s final team also set a franchise record with 57 wins. Still, it remains to be seen whether he would have interest in leaving the Raptors for New York, particularly given the strong pull he felt toward the Toronto organization when he left the Nuggets. Plus, his Raptors contract runs for two more years, Isola points out.
Jackson, 70, has been vague about whether he intends to finish the five-year contract he signed to run the Knicks in 2014, though comments he made last month seemed to indicate he doesn’t intend to go anywhere soon. People close to him even reportedly raised the idea he would coach on a part-time basis next season, though Jackson shot that idea down.
Instead, Jackson appears ready to formally give the coaching job to Rambis, an outcome Jackson has reportedly hoped for ever since naming Rambis interim coach in February. New York is just 8-16 since firing former coach Derek Fisher, and sources indicated to Marc Berman of the New York Post that Fisher drew more respect from Knicks players than Rambis does. Carmelo Anthony has said he’d like Jackson to at least listen to other candidates for the head coaching job.