LOS ANGELES -- Phil Jackson will listen to a pitch from the Toronto Raptors to take a leading role in their basketball operations, but the 11-time champion coach also wants to explore options with other potential suitors, a person familiar with his plans told CBSSports.com.
Speculation has ramped up that Jackson would entertain overtures from Toronto after Tim Leiweke, former CEO of AEG -- which owns the Los Angeles Kings and Staples Center -- was hired as president and CEO of the Raptors' parent company, Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment. Leiweke was the head of AEG for the entirety of Jackson's coaching days with the Lakers.
Jackson, 67, is not actively seeking a return to the NBA as a coach, but rather would covet a leading role in shaping a franchise from the coaching staff to personnel decisions. According to the person familiar with Jackson's plans, he is keeping his options open but seems to prefer a role similar to Jerry West's advisory role with the Golden State Warriors over a team presidency in the Pat Riley mold.
Multiple league sources have expressed doubts that Jackson -- whose fiancee, Jeanie Buss, has ascended to the lead ownership position with the Lakers -- ultimately will satisfy his basketball itch in Toronto.
Similarly, sources say the prospect of joining forces again with Michael Jordan, owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, was not initially appealing to Jackson.
But the former Lakers and Bulls coach has grown more open-minded in recent weeks to entertaining any and all offers to employ him in an influential capacity. Several teams already have reached out through backchannels, sources say, and Jackson plans to listen to them all.
The key component of a potential Jackson return would be the ability to hire a head coach who would implement his vision.
With three head coaching jobs currently open -- Charlotte, Philadelphia and Detroit -- and with several more potentially becoming vacant in the coming weeks, there is no shortage of opportunities for Jackson to mold a team's culture.
The Bucks, Nets and Suns are expected to formally open their coaching searches after interim coaches finished out the 2012-13 season. Larry Drew is in the final year of his contract in Atlanta, and there is uncertainty about the future of Rick Adelman in Minnesota, Lionel Hollins in Memphis and Vinny Del Negro with the Clippers -- with the status of the latter two potentially hinging on the outcome of their first-round playoff series.
Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov made overtures to Jackson for the team's head coaching position after Avery Johnson was fired this past season, and league sources expect the Russian billionaire to come calling again. The presence of an established general manager -- Billy King just signed a contract extension with Brooklyn -- would not necessarily be a prohibiting factor for Jackson to enter the fray. Jackson would serve largely as the visionary, with a day-to-day GM and front-office staff in place to execute it.
Though Keith Smart had his option for the 2013-14 season picked up in Sacramento, everything is in flux with the Kings until their future is formally decided in next month's Board of Governors vote. Jackson had been viewed in league circles as a favorite -- along with the Spurs' R.C. Buford -- to head up a relocated Kings franchise in Seattle. But even with the league's relocation committee voting unanimously on Monday to recommend that the Kings' relocation bid be rejected, Jackson's involvement in the Sacramento franchise should not be discounted due, in part, to its relative proximity to Los Angeles. Also, no franchise would be more malleable for Jackson's vision than one with a new owner.
However the Raptors' pursuit of Jackson ends, GM Bryan Colangelo's future with the team is highly in doubt -- and with it, that of coach Dwane Casey, whose 2013-14 option already has been picked up. Though Leiweke technically doesn't start his new position until June 30, he will have influence over the board's decision on whether to pick up Colangelo's contract option for next season at a mid-May meeting.
"He's very well-connected in the league and he has to rebuild that franchise," a league source said of Leiweke. "... He's about championships. They didn't just bring him in there to mind the house."