God. People are about to make me—a dyed in the wool hater of the 90s Bulls—defend Big Chief Triangle. This coaching search has brought out the absolute worst in NY media, and in many Knicks fans. The hissy-fits. The foot-stomping. The limp-bodied collapse in the middle of the grocery store checkout line, complete with wailing, tears, and snot.
And that’s just Berman and Isola.
The Daily News/Post brigade can’t even settle on why it’s mad anymore. It’s the triangle they hate. It’s not getting Steve Kerr. (Coffee is for closers Jackson.) It’s that Jackson’s ego is out of control. And, how dare he leave for LA?
I expect that from them.
But this afternoon’s absolute garbage post at USA Today’s “The Big Lead,” by Jason McIntyre has me writing my first Knickerblogger post here in I don’t even know how long. No link, because the headline, “Phil Jackson on Vacation During the Knicks Coaching Search Means He Probably Has Somebody in Mind” is—by far—the most coherent thing in the post. Yet, nothing about it appears until line 23 (of 28):
Surely Jackson’s vacation means he has a plan, right? Like maybe he’s got an assistant coach from one of the teams still in the playoffs on his radar? Gosh I hope so.
You know what though. I’m not even really that mad. Instead, I’m hating myself for only now seeing the awful truth. Phil Jackson isn’t the problem. Everyone else is. You know why this coaching search has been so controversial? It’s a placebo effect. Much like in studies where people drink non-alcoholic beer but think they’re actually drunk, they get slurred speech, slowed reactions, problems with balance—all the hallmarks of intoxication.
The notion that the Knicks are a cheap punchline has become so second nature no matter what they do it is assumed to be dumb. Most of us think they’re incapable of basic orthodoxy, much less doing something intelligent.
So what we are seeing is increasingly hysterical reaction to an orthodox—if deliberate—coaching search; one that barely even qualifies as quirky. People who should know better are acting like Phil is demanding that candidates hold their hand over a flame and recite a blood oath in Latin to the triangle. Thing is, there’s really no compelling argument to be made that it’s been poorly managed.
Does that mean that Phil didn’t make a mistake by letting Thibs get away? I don’t know. Thibs is obviously the most accomplished candidate on the market this cycle.
But let’s look at the barrage of claims about why this is “worst coaching search ever” one-by-one, shall we?
Claim #1. Phil is only gonna talk to his “triangle cronies!”
This has undergone a number of permutations.
First it was: This is all just window dressing so he can hire his buddy Rambis. The arrogance. The insatiable ego.
Now it’s: Thiiiiibbs!!! See. Phil’s still got an axe to grind with Van Gundy! Ah. Ah. Aaaaaahhhhh! Fire!
Look. There is a reasonable concern to be raised about Phil’s openness to contrasting approaches to the game. I get it. That Thibs was evidently never a serious candidate is worrisome and potentially a huge mistake. However, this legit concern has been pushed to ridiculous lengths to incite an atmosphere of hysteria. Few GMs would strongly consider a coach whose core ideas about the best way to play are nearly antithetical to his own. If Pop dropped dead today I’d bet an amount of money that matters that the San Antonio brass isn’t calling Mike Woodson to install iso-ball.
No matter how much some of us want Phil to “reject and denounce” Tex Winter’s offense as some sort of litmus test, he’s not going to. Yet, he’s objectively done enough to assuage concerns that he’s dismissive of other approaches. At this point I’d argue that Phil’s being far less dogmatic on this issue than many of his critics. As many times as he has said “system basketball,” paired with his initial efforts to hire Kerr, and his apparent interest in David Blatt and Luke Walton, the question seems settled. Phil is committed to a system that emphasizes weak side movement. He’s not going to consider a coach with a screen-roll dominant approach to the game.
It’s not an unassailable stance, but the old man might actually be onto something. Consider that putting Melo in a pass and cut offense resulted in his most complete season. Also consider the unspeakable atrocity the Toronto and OKC offenses can devolve into at times, despite their talent.
Claim #2. This coaching search lacks any semblance of transparency!
This claim is true. It’s not even a strawman argument like the triangle hysteria. Yet, this is what “normal” NBA searches look like in large part because there IS no normal in NBA coaching searches. NBA coaches come from all over. So it’s always hard to confirm the entire consideration set. You don’t get a complete list, even if you identify the presumptive leading candidate. That is the status quo for searches. We likely won’t know much about who Larry Bird considered in Indiana until after they’ve announced the new coach, maybe not even then. Yet no one will bat an eye if Bird hires Nate Macmillan, but then we hear months later that Rick Pitino was also in the consideration set.
At least for the time being, this is also the new normal at MSG. You know what it looks like when your beloved franchise doesn’t have a million leaks putting everything out in the street before it even happens? Well, sometimes it looks like nobody is doing anything, and that’s making some people anxious, some physically ill. But this is a good thing. They’ll get used to it.
Claim #3. Vacation?!? Not a sabbatical. Not a sabbatical. Not a leave of absence. Vacation.
People should shut the hell up about a 70-something year old man taking care of his health and sanity by going on vacation. Some of y’all need to try it. People are out here giving billions of dollars back to companies by leaving vacation on the table, based in many instances entirely on peer pressure. It’s insanity. From a basketball standpoint there’s just nothing to discuss about Vacation-gate, as the Knicks have already been in touch with Vogel’s people. Evidently, Jackson delegates well, owns a phone, or both.
So here’s the thing Knicks fans. This is what a grown-up rebuild looks like. It’s slow. It’s frustrating. A lot of the time it looks like nothing is happening. Yet this is exactly what many supposed smart Knicks fans called for.
Is Phil quirky? Sure, but you knew that. Has he made some missteps? Absolutely. I haven’t loved every move and his intuition about the kind of coach the team needs may well be wrong. But in the broad brush strokes, Knicks fans are largely getting what they should expect out of a reasonably well-run rebuild. Phil has gotten a more complete Melo than any other leadership team. He’s found reasonable talent, and put those guys into roles where they could excel, like Rolo and Derrick Williams, and obviously he drafted/traded for Porzingis and Grant. We need more of the same from Phil, because this is a James Dolan-sized hole.