NEW YORK — As the NBA Draft is taking place Thursday night, New York Knicks owner James Dolan will be playing in a concert with his band, “JD & the Straight Shot,” at a bar in Lower Manhattan.
Dolan, the scion of a cable empire who fancies himself as the next great blues singer, would undoubtedly love to be onstage. But instead of performing, he should cancel the concert, head north of the city to his team’s Westchester practice facility and do the thing Knick fans never thought they would want him to: take back control of his franchise.
This is where the Knicks stand today. What is supposed to be one of the NBA’s flagship franchises, the team with the biggest fan base in the country’s biggest city, has become such a laughingstock, such a joke under the administration of team president Phil Jackson that it would actually be an improvement for the Knicks to have Dolan — one of the most reviled owners in American sports — come back from the self-imposed exile he’s placed himself in since hiring Jackson in the spring of 2014. That’s how bad Jackson’s reign of error has become, as he seems destined to be remembered both as one of the greatest coaches in NBA history and one of its most pathetic executives.
The past few days have been the most glaring example of this. In Jackson’s three-plus years with the Knicks, by far his best accomplishment has been selecting Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. The 7-foot-3 Latvian was booed on draft night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. But it took only a brief glimpse of his potential during his rookie season for him to become a fan favorite in New York, as well as the kind of young building block the Knicks have not had since taking Patrick Ewing first overall more than 30 years earlier.
But during his first two years with the Knicks, even as he was performing well on the court, Porzingis was studying all of the dysfunction surrounding him. Jackson has spent the past two years trashing Carmelo Anthony, a player to whom he gave a no-trade clause; signed Joakim Noah to a four-year, $72 million contract that instantly was one of the worst deals signed last summer; and traded assets for Derrick Rose, a player with little-to-no value at the time. All of this has led the Knicks to be just about the last destination for any player to want to go, a last resort for players with no other options to choose from.
So Porzingis, who will turn 22 in August, made a decision at the end of the regular season: He chose not to show up for his exit meeting with Jackson and the rest of the Knicks’ brass. One can argue whether Porzingis was correct or not — some say he has the right, as one of the faces of the franchise, to express his displeasure with what he’s seeing; others say showing up for such a session is part of the job, and he should do it. But one can’t argue that this decision has led to a man 50 years older than Porzingis turning it into an incredibly petty — and potentially franchise-altering — feud.
Jackson never met with Porzingis before he left the country to go back to Europe for the summer. Neither he nor anyone else from the Knicks has traveled overseas to sit down with Porzingis this summer. Jackson greenlit the decision to fire Josh Longstaff, Porzingis’s personal workout coach on Coach Jeff Hornacek’s staff, who had flown to Latvia to work out with Porzingis the prior summer.
And then, this week, word spread that Jackson was taking trade calls on Porzingis — calls that came in from literally every team in the NBA once it was known he was available. Surely, this could not be. A player of Porzingis’s value — both to the Knicks and to their fan base, which has grown to love him — couldn’t be on the market … could he?
Oh, he could be all right.
“We’re getting calls,” Jackson said during a bizarre interview with Dolan’s MSG Network Wednesday night. “As much as we value Kristaps and what he’s done for us, when a guy doesn’t show up for an exit meeting, everybody starts speculating on the duration or movability from a club.
“So we’ve been getting calls and we’re listening, but we’re not intrigued yet at this level. But as much as we love this guy, we have to do what’s good for our club.”
Translation: Porzingis has offended me, so I might trade him.
Then, Charley Rosen — Jackson’s former assistant coach with the Albany Patroons in the CBA and now a media hit man — wrote his latest column for FanRag Sports about the “pros and cons” of trading Porzingis Thursday morning.
Stunning timing on that one.
So now the world will wait to see what Jackson does Thursday night. The Knicks are said to be asking for a lot for Porzingis — possibly a high pick in this year’s draft plus multiple starters — but the fact that they’re asking for anything is sheer lunacy and gross malpractice. Porzingis is a young, budding star that the fan base loves, that wants to be in New York and has shown he is more than capable of handling both the media scrutiny that comes with playing here and the pressure that comes with being the face of the Knicks.
For Phil Jackson, though, that isn’t enough. Porzingis’s decision to skip his exit meeting, to call out the Knicks — Jackson’s Knicks — for being a dysfunctional mess, was too much for Jackson to take. So now he’s lashing out, and may wind up trading away the one thing Knicks fans have to be excited about in the process.
That is why Dolan should cancel his concert tonight, and do the one thing no one who has ever observed the Knicks thought would be the best course of action: take back control, get rid of Jackson and mend fences with his young star.
Otherwise, he may be onstage crooning as Phil Jackson somehow sends his franchise careening further off the deep end than anyone thought possible.