For some strange reason, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of creating a nickname for this new Knicks hierarchy. I attempted to blend Phil Jackson and together to form “Phish,” which is also the name of a psychadelic rock band that Jackson has, on occasion, found appealing.
But all that does is create confusion. And one thing that’s abundantly evident in this new era is the painstaking effort to eliminate confusion, which is something the shelves were fully stocked with for most of last year.
Jackson and Fisher took the dais on Friday at the MSG Training Center, along with general manager Steve Mills, to meet the media just days before training camp was — finally — set to open in West Point. On the adjacent court, behind a large curtain, bouncing basketballs could be heard. The sound of players getting in their work.
The sound of anticipation for a season.
“This is the most we’ve seen,” Mills remarked of the player turnout for informal workouts at the facility over the month of September in comparison to past years. In fact, last season I recall hearing that very few players got together for pre-camp workouts at the training center.
Mills noted “13-to-14 guys have been up here working out” on a daily basis.
That fits right into the mentality — the culture change — that Jackson has been determined to establish within the organization. From his seat, through the front office, into the locker room and right down to the ball boys.
“We don’t think training camp is the start of our next season,” he said. “We think July 1 is the start of the next season.”
In other words, don’t use camp to get into shape. Come to camp to get ready to compete.
Jackson and Fisher squelched hyperbole for the most part, but there were still a few trademark motivational speeches within their session with reporters.
For instance, Jackson reiterated Fisher’s claim from the summer, saying “We believe we’re going to be a playoff team.” He also forecasted a need for “45-to-46 wins” to make the playoffs in the revamped Eastern Conference.
Fisher vowed to bring back an old franchise trademark that has disappeared over the last 15 years.
“We’re going to prioritize defense,” he said. “A lot of focus will be on what we do offensively and how guys are going to fit into it or buy into it, whether or not our players like it or don’t like it, but successful teams play defense.
“There’s no way around it. The numbers, stats and history tells you, the better teams are the teams that play defense. We have to figure out a way to break into the elite defensive teams in some way.”
Elite is a standard Jackson has mostly only known as a head coach. Now as an executive, he’s not yet selling promises, but he does see a good investment in potential.
“We have a really bright future ahead,” Jackson said. “This is the year we establish ourselves as a team of a system . . . We’re laying down the foundation of a good future.”
It begins Tuesday morning at West Point.
Jackson was one of the featured stars (along with Carmelo Anthony) in the popular Jordan Brand “tip the cap” commercial commemorating Derek Jeter’s final season, but he admitted he doesn’t know Jeter personally. Still, he said he admired the Yankee captain and respected “his record, his tenure here with the Yankees as a great leader in the baseball world.” As for his walk-off RBI in the bottom of the ninth inning Thursday night in his final game at Yankee Stadium, Jackson added, “What a wonderful thing to do in front of a crowd that so desperately wanted to see him succeed.”
For the record, Jackson didn’t see the historic moment live. He was watching the Giants on Thursday Night Football.
The Knicks will hold training camp at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. from Tuesday to Friday. It is the first time the Knicks will travel for camp since the team spent a week in Saratoga before the 2010-11 season. USA Basketball used the academy as a practice site in August before it left for the World Cup in Spain.
The Knicks will only be at West Point for four days because of logistical issues involving the Army’s home football game against Ball State on Saturday. Still, Jackson would like to believe the short visit to the academy will still have an impact on the players.
“We’ll go there with the hopes of giving players an idea of the discipline and the character that makes up the best of our country that come to this academy and get educated,” Jackson said.
- No surprise here: Amar’e Stoudemire arrived in great shape. Also not a surprise that Fisher has already considered ways to preserve Stoudemire’s legs to keep the 30-year-old healthy for the season.
- Fisher said he does not have a starting lineup in mind. In fact, he said, “The only person I know for sure is starting is No. 7.” That would be Melo, of course.
- Andrea Bargnani is healthy, working out and ready for camp. Fisher has talked to him not about his role in the offense, but how he will be a factor on defense.
- Interesting choice of words by Fisher when discussing Bargnani’s experience last season before the injury. Fisher said the Italian big man was traded to a team that was “disjointed” and “had a lot of question marks surrounding the team and inconsistencies.”
- Jackson said he has been in New York “full-time” since returning from the summer league in July and doesn’t plan to head to Los Angeles until Thanksgiving, to spend the holiday with his family.
- The players will meet with reporters on the team’s official Media Day, which is Monday at the MSG Training Center. You will be able to find video clips of the player interviews from Media Day, as well as Jackson, Fisher and Mills, at MSG.com.