PHILADELPHIA -- Amid reports Friday that Phil Jackson had been offered a four-year deal worth more than $5 million per season to coach the Los Angeles Lakers, attention once again focused on Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy and Madison Square Garden president Dave Checketts.
In the midst of New York's unexpected run through these playoffs, Van Gundy's job security has underlined everything the Knicks have done. With every loss, people wonder whether Van Gundy is close to being axed; with every win, onlookers wonder how he could possibly get axed. Checketts' sullen looks after Knicks victories don't help matters at all. And Jackson's potential signing with the Lakers only makes this all the more precarious for the Knicks."The truth is, I haven't even thought about it," Van Gundy has said about his job status, straight face and all. "I've got bigger concerns at the moment."
Those concerns presumably involve a trip to the NBA Finals, the Knicks' first visit there since 1994. But the $3.5 million bonus Van Gundy was to receive if New York advanced to the finals could be part of what he's alluding to, as well.
Still, talk of whether Van Gundy will stay or go has permeated the New York scene for weeks. Several Knicks sources have confirmed that Checketts believes he would be justified in firing Van Gundy even if the Knicks win it all, so long as he then hired Jackson. Other than Jackson, however, even if Van Gundy doesn't bring home a ring, there's no one Checketts could hire who would enable him to walk away from this unscathed.
"I've taken a lot of heat over this situation," Checketts said last month, after conceding that he had lied to everyone, including Van Gundy, about having met with Jackson. "And I'll continue to take heat until this whole matter is resolved."
Jackson's signing could resolve things for Checketts. The likelihood is that he would keep Van Gundy if he couldn't get Jackson, albeit grudgingly, because the only notable candidate available is Chuck Daly, who's enjoying his golf outings in Orlando.
And last time anyone checked, Pat Riley wasn't interested in leaving Miami.
Which leaves Van Gundy, a New York fan favorite these days, locked in. Not to mention that he is due to receive $2 million next season, meaning that along with the bonus, it would cost Cablevision $5.5 million if they lose him.
So, is it really worth it for the Knicks to get rid of Van Gundy?
The answer lies in L.A. and is expected in a matter of days.
DRAFT STUFF: As of last week, there was talk that the Chicago Bulls were entertaining the possibility of trading the top pick in the June 30 draft to Toronto for the Raptors' No. 5 overall pick and second-year forward Tracy McGrady.
"That's totally untrue," said Raptors coach Butch Carter. "Tracy will not be a part of any trade we make. We're totally committed to him. Period."
It's also believed that the Bulls are considering an offer from Charlotte that would have the Hornets trading forward Anthony Mason, point guard David Wesley and the No. 3 overall pick to Chicago for the Bulls' No. 1 pick.
Both the Raptors and the Hornets supposedly are willing to consider such deals because they desperately want Maryland guard Steve Francis. Coaches, anyone? Wizards owner Abe Pollin is expected to make a decision on whether to hire Isiah Thomas as his coach by Wednesday or Thursday. Thomas, originally seeking $5 million per year, is said to have reduced his proposal to about $3 million per season. If Pollin doesn't pencil Thomas in, expect general manager Wes Unseld to have his choice. Which means Detroit Pistons assistant Gar Heard could become a head coach by next weekend.
Doc Rivers, the new coach of the Orlando Magic, is expected to name former Dallas Mavericks coach Jim Cleamons as an assistant on his staff any day now.
In Cleveland, Minnesota Timberwolves assistant coach Randy Whitman is the leading candidate for the Cavs' head-coaching job. Indiana's Rick Carlisle is believed to be GM Jim Paxson's second choice, but many of the Pacers' players can't stand the sight of Carlisle, which is the same problem players had with recently fired Cavs coach Mike Fratello.
If Whitman does leave Minnesota for the head job in Cleveland, don't be surprised if beleaguered University of Minnesota coach Clem Haskins is seen vying for an assistant's job with the T'Wolves. Or the Cavs, for that matter.
PERSONNEL: Penny Hardaway has exercised an option to void the last three years of his contract with the Magic and will become a free agent on July 1. Supposedly, there has been little interest in Hardaway after a tumultuous season that led to coach Chuck Daly's retirement. At least one Magic source says that's untrue. "That's a . . . lie," the source said. "There are several teams that are interested in Penny. They've been calling for weeks." One of them is the Toronto Raptors.
Sonics forward Vin Baker is expected to exercise the opt-out clause in his contract this summer, which could lead to his ending up in Toronto. Carter has known Baker for years and wants him desperately. But so does Milwaukee's George Karl.
ONE LAST THING: Here are the teams that have been in the most conference finals in the past 10 years: Chicago Bulls, seven times; Utah Jazz, five times; Indiana Pacers and Portland Trail Blazers, four times.
The Pacers are the only team of the bunch never to have played in the NBA Finals.