With the misses piling up, this year’s free agency may be Phil Jackson’s last shot at getting the New York Knicks over the hump.
NEW YORK — Grading Phil Jackson on his additions (and subtractions) to the New York roster would give even the toughest professor a migraine headache.
On one hand, the Knicks president aced the 2015 NBA Draft. Jackson selected Rookie of the Year runner-up Kristaps Porzingis fourth overall and traded Tim Hardaway, Jr. to Atlanta for the pick that became Jerian Grant.
The jury is still out on Willie Hernangomez, the 35th pick in the Draft. He is rumored to be joining the Knicks this summer.
The allure of Jackson’s 11 championships in Chicago and Los Angeles wasn’t enough to earn high marks in last summer’s free agency, either.
The Zen Master was able to sign Robin Lopez, but only after a swing-and-a-miss on marquee talent: Greg Monroe, LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre Jordan. Jackson also landed Arron Afflalo, coming off of a poor season in Portland, but whiffed on Wesley Matthews and Monta Ellis.
In all, Jackson added six new free agents last summer — Lopez, Afflalo, Kyle O’Quinn, Kevin Seraphin, Sasha Vujacic and Derrick Williams. He also re-signed Lance Thomas and Lou Amundson each to one-year deals.
Not a single name to put bodies in Madison Square Garden seats. And after a season with the newly constructed roster, barely a name to put checks in the wins column.
Factor in the coaching search and Jackson is barely passing Introduction to Sports Management, a totally different class from Head Coaching 201.
Jackson lost to Golden State in the Steve Kerr sweepstakes two summers ago, despite having coached him in Chicago. Instead, he hired Derek Fisher to an obscene five-year deal worth $25 million — a deal Jackson ate when he fired Fisher a year-and-a-half into the contract.
This summer, he made an attempt at Kerr’s top assistant Luke Walton. Jackson also coached Walton with the Lakers, but like Kerr, lucky Luke jetted for Los Angeles’ coaching vacancy.
The New York Knicks are at a crossroads in summer ’16. Adding Hornacek and his up-tempo offense is a start, but the Knickerbockers need talent to compete for a playoff spot.
Carmelo Anthony has said he wants to be “at the head of the table” when it comes to signing free agents this summer. It’s time for Phil Jackson to flash his 11 rings and help add a game-changer to the roster.
It is no secret New York needs help in its back court.
Jose Calderon, on contract for another season at $7.7 million, was the NBA’s oldest starting point guard at 34 years old. Afflalo found himself on the bench down the latter stretch of the season and can opt out to become a free agent in June.
Jackson cannot allow big names to stiff arm the Knicks this summer.
The 2016 class is ripe with guards. Rajon Rondo, Mike Conley, Brandon Jennings headline the floor generals. DeMar DeRozan, Bradley Beal, Eric Gordon, Kent Bazemore and Lance Stephenson are among several capable shooting guard candidates.
New York will have at least $18.9 million to sign free agents this summer. That number can increase to more than $30 million if Afflalo and Williams opt out. A max contract will cost in the $23 million ballpark.
Phil Jackson must sign a max or near-max player.
If not, the Knicks will wallow in mediocrity for another season, Hornacek or not.
Jackson’s had a rough go at Basketball Presidency 101, and the F’s are beginning to pile up. If the Zen Master can’t ace this test — easily worth 35 percent of his grade — he needs to withdraw from the class before it’s too late.
If not, Jackson is going to fail. And he’s going to tank New York’s grade with him.