How Phil Jackson is Holding Back the New York Knicks
Feb 12, 2017; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks president Phil Jackson and general manager Steve Mills look on during the second half against the San Antonio Spurs at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

In the three-plus years Phil Jackson has controlled the New York Knicks, nothing but hard times and disappointment have ruled. 

The New York Knicks are set to miss the playoffs for the fourth straight year and for the third time in the Phil Jackson era. There was hope in the beginning that the ‘Zen Master’ could lead the Knicks back to the promised land, but it has been quite the opposite. The Knicks will head back to the lottery for the second time in two years and will lose 50-plus games for the third straight year.

Jackson’s regime has not relented even though the Knicks continually flounder and it is because of his tunnel vision that the Knicks cannot improve and, at the very least, make it back to the postseason.

The issue first and foremost, which has done the media rounds as of late, is the whole talk of Jackson’s beloved triangle. The problem itself is not necessarily the system. Actually, that is far from it. Jackson hired Jeff Hornacek who was renowned for his up-tempo, run-and-gun style of play and that is exactly what Hornacek had in mind when he accepted the job last May.

Unfairly, however, Hornacek has been seemingly pressured and somewhat forced into running the triangle as the primary option and further to that, full commitment to it next year. The former Phoenix Suns leading man openly said he wasn’t overly familiar with the triangle, but understood the concepts in that it is a floor spacer. After setting the league on fire early in the year with his high-powered offense, Hornacek has bizarrely gone away from that and ran the slower, more methodical triangle offense.

It is visible in interviews in practice and even during games that Hornacek does not share the same passion for the triangle that Jackson does. It became clear the Hornacek was really without choice in the matter when Knicks star forward, Carmelo Anthony, said that he wished Hornacek had stood strong with his brand of basketball rather than succumbing to old-man Phil.

In addition to this, Jackson forces the triangle upon his coaching staff and, therefore, the players. This is senseless, as the players he has sought in aren’t necessarily the best fits for the system. He brought in a guard in Derrick Rose who as recently as the NBA All-Star break didn’t understand the offense. When you couple this with his ball dominant nature and inability to shoot from beyond 18-feet make him far from a good triangle option.

As it is an old-school system. It features old-style play; the post. Kristaps Porzingis is the Knicks main man and he isn’t all that fond of post play right now. He seems more suited to getting shots from ball movement or simple, fundamental pick and roll basketball. It also isn’t helping Courtney Lee who’s percentages have dropped significantly since primarily running the triangle. Yes, the system does preach off ball movement but Lee is missing out on the penetration of Rose, Anthony and Porzingis.

Again, the triangle itself isn’t the issue. Although sometimes it can become isolation heavy, the Knicks do get good shots out of it for the most part. The issue is that the players Jackson brings in to execute the system don’t necessarily fit or are fully invested.

Finally, the team’s star player saying he wishes his coach stood firm with the offense shows his preference to what Hornacek was doing and somewhat his distaste for the triangle. That basically tells the story, doesn’t it?

The Knicks also just have no consistency, whatsoever. That doesn’t help toward building chemistry and further to that, a winner. In three offseason at the helm, Phil Jackson has made wholesale changes year in and year out. In 2015, it was five returning players and last year it was just six. It also looks like there will be a mass culling again this summer, but this one actually does seem to be warranted. In saying that, though, how is continuity, chemistry and relationships supposed to be built if its a revolving door of players year in and year out?

The simple answer is … it just doesn’t work that way.

With the inconsistency, comes a lack identity and that has been one of the main issues this season. The Knicks looked like they’d be an offensive force, and they did for a period, but it wasn’t sustained. Defensively, New York just lack any cohesion and a good defensive performance doesn’t carry over from one game to the next. If the Knicks have an identity at all it is that they are a trianwreck. The inconsistencies in not having the same group for more than a year leads to inconsistencies on the court which has been exemplified the year more than most.

Another factor in this lack of consistency is that New York lack commitment. In their 17-win season they went young for the most part but then proceeded to bring established veterans who didn’t have any more room to improve. Following that the Knicks went all in and tried to build a contender in three weeks. Jackson added past-prime players who are a shell of there former selves. It then begs the question, what will the Knicks do this summer? Will they persist with the current group? Will they try and add more pieces to the current group and take steps forward? Or will they take the biggest step forward and commit to a full re-build with Kristaps Porzingis and whomever they select in the lottery this year? It is unknown and the path ahead is unclear.

Phil Jackson has always been a different breed; from giving his players books to read and having meditation sessions but this year he has taken it to another level. He has seemingly lived and lurked in the shadows this season, avoiding the media and cryptically criticising star players via Twitter. That’s a big one. Phil Jackson has rarely spoken to Carmelo Anthony this season, despite labelling him a ball hog and that he is unable to change. Further to this, Jackson’s puppet, Charlie Rosen, pilled on further criticism.

Basically, rather than having a proper conversation like a normal human being, Phil Jackson prefers to go behind the player’s back and broadcast to the world his criticisms of the franchise’s best player in 18 years. Carmelo Anthony has the respect of his peers league-wide and the disrespect shown by Phil Jackson didn’t go unnoticed. Reports showed that players across the Association did in fact see it and did in fact have a distaste for it. The basic consensus around the NBA was that what free agent in their right mind would join the New York Knicks under Phil Jackson’s regime?

Phil Jackson has held back the New York Knicks since his arrival and his autocratic nature isn’t doing him any favours. As long as Jackson mans the ship here in New York, the Knicks won’t accomplish much.