The record speaks for itself.
The 80-166 mark in three full seasons as Knicks President, the three consecutive years without a playoff berth, the three coaches in three seasons, essentially three different variations of rosters and, of course, the one constant: The Triangle.
After all of that, we woke up to the news yesterday that Phil Jackson and the Knicks had mutually parted ways. This basically puts us right back where we started in the spring of 2014, when he was hired to provide credibility and stability.
We’re now still searching for that leader. That one voice that set the tone for the franchise’s best years: Joe Lapchick, Red Holzman, Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy.
Jackson’s championship pedigree overshadows all of these men, but his ability to provide inspiring direction for a franchise could not measure up.
“I had hoped, of course, to bring another championship to the Garden,” Jackson said in a statement. “As someone who treasures winning, I am deeply disappointed that we weren’t able to do that.
“New York fans deserve nothing less.”
What they deserve is an explanation. Why was the Triangle prioritized over the defense, which is — and forever will be — the sole identity of New York basketball? Why was the demand on implementing the system placed ahead of the collective frustration of the players?
Why weren’t coaches allowed to coach their way?
And, finally, why was the culture around the team allowed to grow so turbulent and troubling?
“The idea of developing a ‘culture’ is an overwrought word in the NBA right now,” Jackson said the day he was introduced as team president. “But that’s the cachet that brought me here.”
He lacked front office experience, but Jackson had a staff to assist him. He struggled to let go of his coaching instincts, but when he hired Derek Fisher, we kind of expected it to be a mentorship. He missed on a few trades (Tyson Chandler) and signings (Joakim Noah), but nailed his first lottery pick (Kristaps Porzingis) and, at the very least, put an end to the years of trading away draft picks.
But the most unexpected issue with Jackson’s tenure was the deterioration of the culture within the franchise, which from the outset looked to him as a Zen Master who would bring inner peace to the Hot Take Factory known as New York City.
This was supposed to be a return to The Garden of Eden days.
Instead, we are back where we started.
Then again, maybe not. Remember, Garden chairman James Dolan said at Jackson’s introductory press conference that he intended to be hands-off. “By no means,” Dolan said, “am I an expert in basketball.” He then added, “I think I’m a little out of my element” when it comes to being involved in the everyday business of the team.
In the statement released about Jackson’s departure, Dolan reiterated that he will “not be involved in the operation of the team” and that responsibility is now in the hands of general manager Steve Mills “over the short term.”
This is a good time to mention that free agency begins on Saturday. Steve, you can sleep in August.
When it comes to running the franchise, Mills will get some guidance and advisement from Tim Lieweke, a widely-respected sports executive who headed the Anschutz Entertainment Group in Los Angeles and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment in Toronto.
There will be a lot of speculation as to the direction of the franchise now as the Knicks look to a new leader to carry the weight of a city longing for a return to respectability (and if it wouldn’t trouble anyone too much, a championship). But right now, there’s work to be done with the current roster as we look toward 2017-18. Removing Jackson from the equation only means the Triangle is no longer a foundation for assessing a player’s fit to the team.
But there is still a lot on the priority list this summer:
– Porzingis: He has not talked to team executives since he left after the season and blew off his exit interview with Jackson. Will he agree to meet or talk to Mills? His offseason workouts have looked good, but KP needs to re-engage with the franchise this offseason. He’s going into his third season, which is time for him to focus on becoming an All-Star and a leader.
– Carmelo Anthony: Some view Jackson’s departure as a win for Melo, but there is still a belief within the organization that to fully engage a rebuild, he should go elsewhere. But as everyone knows, he holds the power of the no-trade clause and with two years and $54 million left on his contract, a buyout would be too big a check to write to let him go free to a championship contender. The Knicks gave a lot to get him, they should want to get something in return if he leaves.
– Frank Ntilikina: The Knicks left offensive talents such as Dennis Smith Jr. and Malik Monk on the board to draft Ntilikina, who was a favorite of Jackson. Personally, I like the idea of prioritizing defense and Keena, in his own words, is a “willing defender.” But the onus is now on the franchise to invest heavily into this player’s development. You have to leave no doubt that he was the right pick.
– Jeff Hornacek: It will be interesting to watch the Orlando Summer League and see what type of offense he installs. It could be an indication of what he hopes to run next season. A lot will depend on personnel, but remember, with the Suns, Hornacek featured a two-guard system and encouraged uptempo play. Will he be a different coach going forward?
– Free Agency: The Knicks won’t have a lot of salary cap space unless they make some roster moves. There is a major decision to make about Derrick Rose, who has expressed an interest in returning to New York. Rose had issues with the Triangle, but proved he could still be a very effective scorer. Can he stay healthy enough to be a viable option?
He might be the most affordable, but there are other names at the guard position to at least check in on, such as Jrue Holiday, Kyle Lowry and Jeff Teague.
We’ll break down free agency and go over the options on the next Knicks Night Live next Wednesday!