SALT LAKE CITY, DEC. 3 -- The New York Knicks fired Coach Stu Jackson today, replacing him with former Phoenix and Dallas coach John MacLeod.

"I have a lot of empathy for Stu," MacLeod said in New York after his first practice with his new team, which is 3-5 at home and 7-8 overall.

MacLeod, 53, coached the Suns for 14 seasons, taking them from the bottom of the Western Conference to the NBA semifinals four times and to the NBA Finals in 1976. He coached the Mavericks for three years, but was fired early in the 1989-90 season by Dallas owner Donald Carter several months after being told by Carter not to take the Knicks job.

"I will be positive and have a realistic approach," said MacLeod, who ranks fifth among active NBA coaches with 675 victories.

When Jackson, 34, was hired, he -- and everyone else -- was told that the Knicks had to become halfcourt-friendly if they were to win big, and they had to get away from the frenetic pressing style of former coach Rick Pitino.

Instead, New York has gone to war three straight years with essentially the same group, one that, most assuredly, cannot play half-court style. They have a problem at off guard, as evidenced by the benching of Gerald Wilkins. Point guard Mark Jackson isn't a good jump shooter. Few players set picks. The reserves are weak.

"At this point in time, we felt a change was needed to improve the performance of the team," General Manager Al Bianchi said. "John MacLeod is a proven winner. His outstanding record speaks for itself."

Engendering effort is the coach's responsibility. Assembling the talent is not. Bianchi notes that New York's hands are tied because of the salary cap, especially since Patrick Ewing wants to redo his $31 million deal.

Whatever the reason, the Knicks haven't changed their makeup significantly since Pitino was coach. Winter Storm in Chicago

The offensive system of assistant coach Tex Winter is under fire in Chicago, where many have noted that Michael Jordan doesn't get as many shots as he used to. Jordan's scoring average of 28.8, fine for most mortals, is almost five points under last season's.

Bulls Coach Phil Jackson cites growing pains.

"With Tex Winter," Jackson said, "the situation for him in college was to redshirt a kid and then have him as a freshman, when freshmen didn't play, and then he'd have three varsity years and already have two years of the system under his belt.

"We're trying to do this in two weeks of training camp, to acclimate guys into what we consider a united kind of flow in the offense. It takes awhile and some of the guys have not been around it longer than just a couple of weeks of camp and a couple of weeks in the season. We're still seeing the lack of recognition."McKinney Will Be Back

Minnesota forced out Billy McKinney last week as player personnel director. Coach Bill Musselman won the power struggle, which surfaced when McKinney predicted to local media before the season that the Timberwolves would win 30 games.

"They told me we would never talk about the number of wins," Musselman said during preseason. "I've tried to go along with that philosophy. I've never pushed for any 30-year-old veteran on the ballclub or any high-salaried player for a quick fix."

Forward Bob Thornton is 28. And he isn't high-salaried. Guard Scott Brooks is 25. And he isn't high-salaried, either. And McKinney had nothing to do with either of those loopy deals, which is just as well. He will be a top-notch general manager someday soon, while the Timberwolves might still be trying to right themselves.Musings From McHale

Kevin McHale was asked if he'd ever get to the 5,000 assists of his Celtics teammate, Larry Bird. "I hope not," he said. "God, no. I get close, I'm hoisting some more shots up."

McHale was also in midseason form last week at a roast for retired play-by-play man Johnny Most, one of the last remaining links to the Boston dynasties of the 1950s.

"Johnny's a survivor," McHale said. "If he had been on the Titanic, they would have found him a couple of days later on his back saying, 'Hey, this salt water's not bad.' The man's got some survival instincts."