If there was anyone left that isn’t paid by the Knicks who needed further convincing Phil Jackson’s reign as president of the franchise – one that was unthinkably extended two more years by owner James Dolan earlier this week – is an unmitigated disaster, they should’ve gotten it Friday.
This was a tour de force from Jackson, the 11-time NBA champion head coach and two-time champion as a player who has become a nonstop clown show in his three years running the Knicks. During his tenure as a coach, Jackson was known for needling everyone – from players and executives on his own team – to various members of the competition.
When he was winning championships with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, it was an amusing, quirky part of Jackson’s personality. Now that he’s losing, though, it seems far different: a combination of pettiness, insecurity and deflecting the blame from his team’s struggles in literally every direction but toward himself.
Take Jackson’s unrelenting criticism of Carmelo Anthony. Outside of drafting Kristaps Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez in 2015, managing to re-sign Anthony in 2014 remains one of the few positive decisions of Jackson’s tenure. And for those who would argue with that, remember this: Jackson has since traded for Derrick Rose and signed Joakim Noah to arguably the worst contract in the NBA. Convincing Anthony to come back, even for the most money, is a monumental achievement by comparison.
One wouldn’t know that, however, by listening to what Jackson has said – or had others say – about Anthony. Take this gem from Friday’s proceedings:
“We’ve not been able to win with him on the court at this time,” Jackson said. “I think the direction with our team is that he is a player that would be better off somewhere else and using his talents somewhere where he can win or chase that championship.
“Right now we need players that are really active, can play every single play defensively and offensively. That’s really important for us. We’re starting to get some players on the court we can do that. That’s the direction we have to go.”
So, in so many words: Thanks, but no thanks, Carmelo. Now, get lost.
There are two problems with that. The first is that Jackson unnecessarily – some would argue insanely – gave Anthony a no-trade clause when giving him a five-year contract worth more than $120 million in 2014, allowing Anthony to dictate if, or when, he will be traded if anywhere at all, severely limiting Jackson’s ability to get anything of substance for the talented scorer.
Then there’s this: in Anthony’s first two-and-a-half seasons in New York, the Knicks made the playoffs three times, and in 2013 won 54 games and won a playoff series – two things the franchise hasn’t otherwise done this millennium. Once Phil Jackson assumed control of the Knicks in late 2014, the team has gone a combined 80-166 over the past three seasons.
So who has been the bigger drain on the Knicks’ ability to win: Anthony or Jackson? The evidence seems pretty clear it’s not the player.
Now, consider how Jackson treated his coach, Jeff Hornacek. During his own time as a coach, Jackson feuded with both Jerry Krause and Jerry West, two Hall of Fame executives who delivered championship talent to their Hall of Fame coach. Still, the idea of either of them entering into one of Jackson’s practices and telling him how to coach his team would have – understandably – driven Jackson insane.
With that context, consider this obtuse quote from Jackson about how involved he will be with the Knicks next season.
“I think that one of the things that I like about this job is that [General Manager Steve] Mills does a lot of the paperwork — the back and forth with the NBA headquarters – and my issues is about talking to coaches, finding out the game plan,” Jackson said.
“I took some time on the West Coast during the holidays when I think things really kind of fell down. We lost six in a row there which changed us from being a positive to a minus. So I think I’ve got to do a little bit more on scene, on-target mentoring.”
Let that sink in for a minute. An executive who hardly ever travels with the team says that going on a midseason vacation is the reason the Knicks’ season fell apart – and, because of that, he can be free to meddle in his coach’s practices.
On what planet is this acceptable? Considering Jackson later said the 53-year-old Hornacek is a “young coach,” he’s clearly decided he needs to oversee things in order to make sure his beloved triangle offense – something virtually his entire team, led by Anthony, has rebelled against – is properly installed. It’s an embarrassing overstepping of his bounds as an executive, and only underscores how the 71-year-old Jackson wants to be coaching (the management job he’s actually good at), but that his body won’t allow him to do.
All of this dysfunction led Porzingis – the one promising thing the Knicks have going for them from Jackson’s reign of error – to skip his exit meetings today, a development first reported by ESPN and confirmed by The Washington Post. As Anthony reacted to Jackson’s comments with social media posts featuring Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Great Gatsby,” Porzingis made his feelings known by liking the posts – as well as a tweet at both he and Anthony from a fan that says, “fans got your backs no matter what” [sic].
There’s nothing better than having the one player the fans are excited about openly rebelling against the drama and utter dysfunction that is pervading the Knicks organization these days – the same as it has throughout the past 15 years. It’s a perfect encapsulation of the pathetic state of what is supposed to be one of the league’s flagship franchises, but instead has become a laughingstock.
Dolan had a chance to change that this week by dismissing Jackson, as he should’ve done, and going out and using his endless supply of cash to bring in a proper basketball executive – someone who has actually successfully done the job previously, as opposed to overpaying someone who has not.
Instead, because Jackson operates as cover for Dolan and keeps him from taking incoming fire from the media (at least when Dolan isn’t cursing at fans or banning franchise legends from MSG for life), Dolan agreed to keep him for two more years at $12 million per – a contract that only rivals Noah’s as the worst in the NBA.
So Jackson will continue on for the next 24 months, trying to apply his antiquated philosophies while openly alienating his current players and coaches and then blaming them for not agreeing with his way of doing things.
Meanwhile it is the Knicks’ loyal fans who suffer, who beg for this team to show some semblance of competency and direction, but find themselves forced to listen to Jackson’s ramblings Friday – the NBA’s equivalent of Nero fiddling while Rome burned.