"New York is famous for chants, and you know you'll hear 'We want Phil' in the Garden after they lose four in a row," said one longtime league official with ties to the Knicks. "If the head coach is Steve Kerr or someone else, he'll have to be strong and understand that something like that is going to happen. He'll have to understand that it's not a knock on him, but a testament to Phil's greatness. And then it's up to Phil to protect his coach from that."
There's something of a natural line to be drawn here to Pat Riley's decision in 2005 to leave the Miami Heat's front office and replace Stan Van Gundy on the bench. At 60, the 2005 Riley was eight years younger than Jackson is now, and he didn't have the health issues that Jackson has cited as a reason to keep his coaching days behind him.
But still, Jackson considered returning to the Lakers' sideline before being passed over -- shockingly enough -- for Mike D'Antoni, and he hasn't completely ruled out one last go on the bench. What if a re-signed Carmelo Anthony or the major free agent the Knicks sign in July 2015 ultimately decide to push behind the scenes for a Jackson comeback, much like Shaquille O'Neal and Alonzo Mourning were said to have favored a Riley return in 2005?
"That's where Phil would have to protect his guy," the official said, "and come out and tell the fans, 'Stop it. You're hurting our guy. You're hurting us. I'm not doing it, and he's the best coach for us.'
"Phil will have to stand with him and support him. He'll also have to let his coach be a little different. Maybe he won't burn incense in the locker room or hand out books for his players to read. Maybe he'll use some of the triangle principles instead of using only the triangle all of the time. Either way, that coach will need to be protected by strong leadership."
Once upon a time, a new head coach named Bill Belichick ran away from the New York Jets because, among other things, he wasn't comfortable with the specter of Bill Parcells as his front-office overlord. Parcells had two championship rings at the time, or nine fewer than Jackson has right now, playing days not included.
If Kerr turns out to be Jackson's guy, so be it. He was once tough enough to accept the mother of all endgame challenges from Michael Jordan, who, deep down, wasn't sure Kerr was up to it.
But Jordan wasn't Kerr's boss or his permanent replacement-in-waiting in Chicago. Phil Jackson will be both in New York, and it's going to take one hell of a coach to deal with that.