New York Knicks boss Phil Jackson recently made disparaging comments about J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert. Poor choice or calculating move?
By Robby Sabo
Rarely does anything happen for this franchise that can be considered positive. If finishing 17-65 while in full tank mode last season wasn’t enough, the backlash Phil Jackson took thanks to the drafting of Kristaps Porzingis was the cherry on top.
Then, top flight free agents wouldn’t come play with Carmelo Anthony in the greatest city in the world.
Suddenly though, something happened that excitingly peaked our interest – our first glance of Porzingis in the 2015 NBA Summer League. The kid not only showcased his oozing potential, he displayed a polish look on both ends of the floor.
The New York Knicks were finally on the uptick.
Author Charley Rosen was granted the opportunity to speak with Jackson during planned interviews over the course of the 2014-15 season. In fact, he spent exactly one day with Phil every month.
Here’s an excerpt from Rosen’s work as Jackson explains why he made the move to ship Smith and Shumpert out of town to Cleveland, via ESPN:
“I asked [Derek Fisher] what players were the biggest distractions. He said that although J.R. [Smith] never talked back to him, he always walked around under a dark cloud. Derek was worried that negative energy was contagious.”
Shumpert was another problem says Jackson, according to Rosen.
“I like Shump,” says Jackson, “but he has a very loud, big personality. It was difficult for most of the other guys to deal with, especially if things don’t go well for him or the team.”
The other player explained away in the excerpt was Samuel Dalembert. Jackson referenced how the former Knicks center would actually fall asleep during team meetings.
Furthermore, more explanation came in the form of Smith:
“We talked about his statement to the press that our shooting guard depth was going to be the team’s asset, but so far it hadn’t worked out that way,” Jackson says. “He was supposed to carry the scoring load for the second unit and he wasn’t doing the job. I also said that because of his unacceptable behavior, he had two strikes against him with this team. He didn’t really respond. He’s a very sensitive guy, with his big doe eyes. He looked like he was going to tear up. But he finally responded that he was going through some issues with his gal.”
All of these comments were made back in January.
The first and most common reaction to these comments is one of befuddlement. Why would Jackson be so candid about the inner-workings of his franchise, fully aware that they’ll eventually be published?
Most believe it’s enough to just trade away these malcontents and be done with it. Allow them to pursue the rest of their careers without any back-trails.
Stephen A. Smith of ESPN agrees with that sentiment.
— Stephen A Smith (@stephenasmith) July 21, 2015
Frank Isola of the New York Daily News is another media member closely tied with the organization who disagrees with Jackson’s move here.
So J.R. tells his boss, in private conversation, about a personal issue he’s having & 7 months later Phil reveals it publicly. That’s cool? — Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) July 22, 2015
The fallout from these comments has been phenomenally unpopular – something the Knicks organization has been used to for over a decade.
In spite of this fallout, before you draw your own conclusion about Jackson’s dealings here and jump on the Stephen A. Smith and Isola bandwagon, consider a few things.
First and foremost, the man has a job to do.
It is not in Jackson’s best interest to be well liked within the media and even in his own circles at Madison Square Garden. Sure, it’s a bonus if it unravels in that fashion, but his only goal right now is to turn around a franchise that has seen nothing but epic failures for the better part of 14-years.
His only goal at the moment is to turn around a culture of losing and morph it into a winning environment.
This isn’t an easy goal. So, while Jackson’s comments are very personal and shouldn’t be trickled into the media for super consumption, they do serve a purpose.
These comments signal to the entire organization that terrible attitudes and lazy work-ethics will not be tolerated. It’s a message that directly flies in Carmelo Anthony’s face and forces newcomers to hear loud and clear.
Honestly, how could the leader of this squad, Melo, allow this type of stuff to go down on his team?
After all, this is the Zen-Master, and it’s a clear message sent to the entire basketball world.
He’s a guy who prides himself on not only spinning the media vibe the way he wants or needs to, but does it in a way that has an end-game. Everything he does is calculated (whether it works or not).
Furthermore, consider the timing of when these comments came to us.
Rosen didn’t release them during the season or even during the playoffs when the Knicks were already on the golf course. They were released after the 2015-16 New York Knicks were already assembled.
Phil knew that speaking with Rosen throughout the course of last season would allow the media a sneak peak into the reasoning behind his moves, and that these organizational philosophies would be available for media consumption around this time.
He didn’t disparage J.R. Smith or Shumpert while they were playing or negotiating. He did it after all the dust settled.
To Jackson, if stepping on a few throats means it would successfully plant a championship message about culture to his franchise, he’ll take that gamble 100 percent of the time. He knows he’ll be hated for it, but he also knows what it takes to win. 13 total NBA Championships is evidence of that very fact.
Suddenly, Melo and every member of the Knicks realizes Jackson cannot be trusted (which is a great thing in the midst of a losing culture). They now realize any poor decision they make or misstep they take can be public knowledge in a nanosecond.
This is all about holding players accountable for their actions, and very little else.
If you don’t think that uncomfortable feeling will encourage guys to get after it a little harder, then you don’t know the first thing about winning.
Whether you agree with the man’s ways or not, you cannot argue the methods to some of his madness has yielded tremendous results.
Already, many are backpedaling on crushing Jackson for drafting Porzingis (due to his fantastic Summer League showing). Let’s see how quickly they start walking away from bashing Phil for these comments.
He’s rid the Knicks of the malcontents and the problem children. The dawn of a new culture is finally in town.
— NBA New York Knicks (@nyknicks) July 14, 2015
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