The Phil Jackson Era with the New York Knicks has finally concluded. Let’s hope this is the last time we talk about him.
This article is intended to illustrate and chronicle the events during Phil Jackson‘s tenure with the New York Knicks. Admittedly, it has been difficult to compile relevant information and news stories due to the rapid turn of events, especially during the final months of Jackson’s stay with the organization.
Regarding this, Phil Jackson joining the Knicks, the New York Sports media, and more importantly, New York’s basketball fans, became a seemingly contrived fantasy.
Surely, after LeBron James took his talents to Miami in 2010, the Knicks were relegated to the subsequent option of Carmelo Anthony. Afterward, it became apparently clear the Knicks would never be able to dethrone LeBron’s Miami Heat, not to mention Carmelo Anthony‘s inability to lure superstar free agents to New York. Becoming President of Basketball Operations was a given, as the luster of Phil Jackson was as impressive as his resume and credentials.
Phil Jackson would undoubtedly pursue and acquire superstar free agents and his championship rings would automatically inject a winning atmosphere in Madison Square Garden. Considering this, it is important to focus on that statement. Beginning with his introductory press conference, fantasies of the New York Knicks becoming the marquee franchise in the NBA, becoming title contenders, and the Knicks becoming NBA champions immediately dissipated. For that simple reason, the fantasy could never match the realities of Phil Jackson the executive, specifically in the current NBA culture.
If we learned anything from this experience, it is that media coverage and reporting has become abysmal in the United States. Above all, the media strongly influences, in this case, sports fans. It shapes fans’ opinions, beliefs and knowledge about their favorite sports teams and personalities.
Therefore, the Phil Jackson era was deterred, infected and ultimately destroyed by the media. Perhaps, this unseen Cold War between the media and Phil Jackson originated because Jackson never made himself easily accessible to reporters and writers who crave daily sound bites and quotes.
Indeed, Jackson was elusive, mysterious, and maintained a tenuous relationship with the press. In hindsight, Jackson’s basketball decisions or knowledge was not significant in his unsuccessful tenure as President of the Knicks.
Hold on! I can already hear those reading this article becoming outraged. Therefore, I will present my closing arguments regarding the Phil Jackson era in New York.
First, let us explore what has now become taboo and sacrilegious, the “Triangle Offense.”
Specifically, it is well known how Jackson implemented the triangle offense during his championship runs with the mighty Chicago Bulls (6), and the fearsome L.A. Lakers (5). Of course, we constantly hear how those teams had all-time players such as Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.
However, the triangle offense is a system that was intended for the supporting cast and bench players, not superstar players.
The triangle offense helps to maximize the strengths of those players. Most of all, the triangle offense’s main purpose is to identify, neutralize, and eliminate. In other words, to create an overall team first and only culture and system. Even the great Michael Jordan initially resisted the triangle offense, as he believed that Phil was trying to prevent him from winning the scoring title in 1991 when Phil Jackson became head coach of the Bulls. Of course, Jordan soon realized that was not the case, as he would still be allowed to score his 30 points per game, all the while making his teammates even better with the triangle offense. Also, Shaquille O’Neal has recently stated that the Lakers would never have won their five championships if not for the triangle offense.
Considering these points, it becomes quite clear and evident why the triangle offense was so despised and resisted by the Knicks players — because as is the case in New York, the triangle offense exposed arguably the biggest “I” in recent NBA history. At any rate, I (no pun intended) will not make this article a philippic against Carmelo Anthony.
During his first press conference, Jackson asserted that he did not take the job to immediately bring championships to the New York Knicks. Jackson’s main intention was to implement (I am paraphrasing) a winning organizational system and produce players that would make the New York Knicks a winning team for years, even after Jackson would depart at the end of his five-year contract. Phil Jackson even cited other sports organizations, such as the New England Patriots and the San Antonio Spurs, who have had unprecedented and extended success.
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Yet critics, media and impatient fans chanted the mantra that the triangle offense is outdated and does not work in today’s NBA. Forgive me, perhaps I was unaware that, in the last decade, the NBA implemented major rule changes.
Did the NBA change the height of the basketball rim? Is it still 5 -on-5? Is there a 4-point field goal now? Does the NBA still use one basketball during games?
The only thing that has changed is the culture of the NBA and its players. Now more than ever, NBA players have unparalleled power over head coaches, GMs and their respective organizations. In the current state of the NBA, defense is practically non-existent. Only a handful of teams (i.e., Golden State, Cleveland and San Antonio) play defense when they need to. What does defense have to do with the triangle offense? It is the mentality of the current NBA, a troubling, detrimental mindset of players not wanting to get down and dirty, put forth maximum effort on every play.
Current NBA players are only interested in producing highlights for the media and their brand. In fact, the NBA is being overrun by “I’s.” Therefore, this is a significant reason for the criticism and backlash against the triangle offense. Many of the Knicks players played well when the team committed to the triangle offense. In March 2017, even Kristaps Porzingis stated he liked the triangle offense, via Al Iannazonne of Newsday.
Of course, the aftermath of the young Porzingis’s comments was never widely reported by the biased media, as Carmelo Anthony gave Porzingis a private tongue lashing for publicly supporting the triangle offense.
Subsequently, what many have failed to realize is that the NBA system does not allow “quick fixes” for struggling franchises. The NBA draft, salary cap and free agency prohibit quick turnarounds for perennial lottery teams from becoming championship contenders. On average, the system imposes a 5-7 year period for improvement, and that is if a franchise gets lucky by having productive draft picks. Oftentimes, because of the salary cap, trades rarely return any valuable assets. Especially in the NBA, trades are used to shuffle and move contracts and money. Above all, the NBA has been, is, and will always be a superstar driven league. Just reflect, or do some research and look at all the championship teams in the modern NBA beginning in 1980. Next, notice that each of those championship teams dominated the NBA, and all of them possessed at least one superstar.
Unfortunately for the New York Knicks, their supposed superstar is Carmelo Anthony.
Yes, I promised this article will not be a rant towards Melo. Offense is not the problem for the New York Knicks. The defense is non-existent, at best. Notably, Carmelo Anthony’s defense, if you analyze any random Knicks game during the last several years. Most of the time, Anthony pretends to play defense. The man has no interest in defense. In fact, pay close attention to the offense whenever a play breaks down or Carmelo Anthony pleads his case to the referees (while leaving his team a man short on defense) that he was fouled. Interestingly enough, when he feels he’s been fouled is when he shows great passion. Yet, on defense, when there is a breakdown in communication and opponents easily score on the Knicks, you will never see Carmelo Anthony upset. What you will see is him immediately putting his hands up looking for the ball.
In the end, Phil Jackson’s unsuccessful tenure morphed into a major source of tension and stress between himself and the face of the New York Knicks, Carmelo Anthony. Initially, if you recall, Phil Jackson had great praise and even more, great hope that he would be able to impart his basketball knowledge and wisdom, in making Carmelo into a true elite superstar. Particularly, that was one of Phil Jackson’s fatal errors — the other was re-signing Carmelo Anthony to a max contract with a no-trade clause. But even so, you would be foolish not to consider that James Dolan influenced the re-signing of Carmelo Anthony. Indeed, another reason for Phil Jackson’s unsuccessful three years, was due largely in part to the impatience of New York. Historically, it has always been acknowledged that rebuilding from the ground up in New York is impossible because fans are impatient, while the owners dread losing enormous revenue.
Initially, if you recall, Phil Jackson had great praise and even more, great hope that he would be able to impart his basketball knowledge and wisdom, in making Carmelo into a true elite superstar. Particularly, that was one of Phil Jackson’s fatal errors — the other was re-signing Carmelo Anthony to a max contract with a no-trade clause. But even so, you would be foolish not to consider that James Dolan influenced the re-signing of Carmelo Anthony.
Indeed, another reason for Phil Jackson’s unsuccessful three years was due largely in part to the impatience of New York. Historically, it has always been acknowledged that rebuilding from the ground up in New York is impossible because fans are impatient, while the owners dread losing enormous revenue.
So, let us reflect. What would have happened if in 2014 “Phil Jackson” chose not to re-sign Carmelo Anthony? Surely, the New York Knicks franchise would have gone down the toilet without Anthony. They likely would have finished with the worst record in the NBA. Wait a moment, the 2014-15 New York Knicks finished with the worst record (17-65) in the Eastern Conference with Carmelo Anthony. Considering this, imagine the headlines and the vitriol by the media, reporters and fans alike towards Phil Jackson had he not re-signed Anthony. Similarly, we heard and read the vitriol, anyway.
Regardless, it was argued Phil Jackson was incompetent, a poor executive and somehow it was all his fault! In any case, not re-signing Carmelo Anthony would have been the right move, allowing the Knicks to free up enormous salary cap space. More importantly, it would have removed an extremely expensive, flawed, aging superstar, and chronic malcontent who never plays adequate defense, or has never won anything in the NBA.
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As a decisive point, we must review the war between Phil Jackson and the Press. Specifically, Stephen A. Smith from ESPN, who became a hysterical anti-Jackson crusader and a Carmelo Anthony apologist. There was an incident where Phil Jackson “had the unmitigated gall” to criticize Carmelo Anthony. What a rotten human being. What a piece of garbage Phil Jackson is. How dare Phil Jackson, the president of the New York Knicks, winner of 11 championships, have the audacity. In addition, the media has pumped out propaganda to discredit Phil Jackson’s career achievements of winning those 11 championships because he had talented players.
All Phil Jackson said about Carmelo Anthony was, “he holds the ball a little too long on offense.”
Anyone who has played any competitive basketball will tell you the same thing. Then, Phil Jackson suggested that maybe if Carmelo Anthony wanted to win an NBA championship he would have a good chance doing it elsewhere. Again, the media backlash and meltdown against Phil Jackson for suggesting that was bizarre. They concluded that this was Phil Jackson attempting to get rid of Carmelo Anthony, whereas Phil Jackson had no power to get rid of Carmelo Anthony as he was the one who gave Anthony the no trade clause.
Jackson was just stating the obvious — Carmelo Anthony, at 32 with the current New York Knicks roster, had no chance of winning a championship in New York. Then, Phil Jackson produced another meltdown by the media and the fans, when he suggested he would consider trading Kristaps Porzingis. The outrage and response were incredible to this mere suggestion. What I mean is, who exactly is Kristaps Porzingis? When did he become untouchable? He’s a second-year player with enormous potential who also began to experience foot and ankle problems in only his second year. What a dunce Phil Jackson is that he considered listening to offers for Kristaps Porzingis. The media falsely portrayed that as Jackson decreeing he would in fact trade KP for a few basketballs.
In the end, the nail in the coffin was when Jackson suggested the option of a Melo buyout. Presently, the reality is Carmelo Anthony is holding the Knicks franchise hostage. He is 33, his skills are declining and the Knicks roster is comprised of young, unproven, developing talent surrounded by average NBA players. Phil saw the writing on the wall and perhaps he was not interested or did not have the energy to continue his battles against the media, Anthony and James Dolan. From the start, the New York Knicks fantasy was that Phil Jackson would eventually coach the New York Knicks himself and guide the team to championships, whereas the reality was Jackson had already won 11 championships as a head coach and two as a player with the New York Knicks, he was 70-years-old and had nothing left to prove on the court. Previously, Phil Jackson was denied control of the Lakers, who were experiencing their own power struggle, so he took the next best job in New York. History will show that Phil Jackson’s three years in New York were hardly a blemish on his resume. Jackson inherited a very flawed roster that needed a complete overhaul. Phil Jackson still has 11 championship rings and is still considered one of the greatest coaches in NBA history.
Previously, Phil Jackson was denied control of the Lakers, who were experiencing their own power struggle, so he took the next best job, in New York. History will show that Phil Jackson’s three years in New York were hardly a blemish on his resume. Jackson inherited a very flawed roster that needed a complete overhaul. Phil Jackson still has 11 championship rings and is still considered one of the greatest coaches in NBA history.
Now fans will realize they and the media will have run out of excuses. Their scapegoat that became Phil Jackson is gone. Reality is, they are still stuck with James Dolan and as of this time Carmelo Anthony. You can hire Red Auerbach, Red Holzman, Pat Riley, etc. Those men do not play defense. Those men do not touch or shoot the basketball. Blaming a crowned and respected entity in Phil Jackson in the role of executive for a team’s horrific play night in and night out are just excuses.
Maybe they will still blame Phil Jackson even after he is gone. Heaven forbid someone has the courage or the credibility to point the finger at the real problem: Carmelo Anthony and James Dolan.