The attraction of Phil Jackson running the New York Knicks was he would bring a sensibility to the organization that often didn’t exist.
Whether you agreed or disagreed with the moves Jackson made through the pre-firing Derek Fisher portion of his tenure, his presence became easier to accept because of a level of stability.
The team owned by James Dolan was going along in a rational manner.
They didn’t return much value for Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith, but you could see a level of logic behind both trades. Despite it taking longer than it should have – Carmelo Anthony did eventually shut it down for the season due to a knee injury. The dead weight on the team was sent away with Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani being bought out.
First-year head coach Derek Fisher spent about half the season experimenting with a more pick and roll based offense rather than the triangle and giving different players an opportunity to prove themselves.
Yea, they screwed up winning a couple games at the end of the season, but it’s not fair to expect players to not go out and try. It was just unfortunate results.
Drafting Kristaps Porzingis and Jerian Grant brought along hope of Jackson being more open to adjusting New York’s playing style due to their skills sets in a good start to his second full offseason on the job.
Free agency should have been the first sign of slight concern when it came to Jackson’s view of what he wanted the team to be. He went after too many bigs and not enough attention to players who could break down a defense off the dribble.
Nothing Jackson did was overly harmful, but he gave insight into what he was looking for with how he constructed the roster. Individually, none of the contracts he gave out were bad, yet in totality they didn’t make all that much sense.
All that said, it wasn’t the end of the world. Rebuilding the Knicks roster from the tear down was more than a one-offseason process. Jackson needed to be given more time to flesh out what he was trying to accomplish.
The season started and the Knicks overachieved. Fisher implemented a smarter defensive scheme that tried to force teams into mid-range shots and the offense was a decent balance of using triangle principles and modern concepts. It wasn’t perfect, but it was something you could live with.
Fisher worked on developing Porzingis and Grant, maximized Thomas’ versatility on the defensive end, had Anthony playing brilliant all-around basketball and managed minutes in a decent fashion.
Once they hit 22-22, one of the healthiest teams in the league at that point in the season, started getting banged up. The nine-man rotation Fisher settled on could no longer be used and the Knicks lack of quality depth shined through. They played a bunch of close games and battled hard, but couldn’t close anything out.
Thinking back on it, in Fisher’s last games it was almost like he was trying to prove a point. In first halves he Knicks would run mainly triangle based offensive sets leading to them falling behind. In second halves they’d run a ton of spread PnR storming back into the game.
This pattern happened quite frequently.
Was it Fisher trying to prove a point to Jackson?
If he was should have Fisher tried to communicate better with his boss instead of being standoffish? Yep.
Should have Jackson been smart enough to see what was happening and not be stubborn about the type of offense that was being implemented? Yep.
The basketball reasons to fire Fisher didn’t make much sense. If it was other dealings that were more involved with off the court shenanigans so be it. Whatever the case, when Jackson made the decision to fire Fisher he tore down what he had worked so hard to build up – an appearance of stability.
Teams that are stable don’t fire coaches less than two years into a job with a group that was on track to be one of the most improved in the NBA.
Jackson made his buddy Kurt Rambis interim head coach and ever since they’ve gone back to their old clusterfuck ways.
Rambis trying to “win now” (poorly by the way, he’s not even good at that) has led to potential bad consequences. Melo is getting overplayed, they’ve swung towards increased base triangle action, the protect the paint screw threes defense is back, Sasha Vujacic’s role has increased while Grant’s has decreased and Porzingis is being used incorrectly.
The scary part of all of this is Rambis and Jackson openly discuss how improved the communication between the two of them is compared to Fisher and Jackson.
Simply put………that’s terrifying.
Even while only winning 17 games what made Jackson’s first year a success was an understanding of where the team was and what needed to be accomplished.
The same hasn’t happened this season – it feels like Jackson has become short sighted.
Outside of unrealistic trade rumors involving Jeff Teague – there’s been no attempt to address their slow, plodding, lack of dribble penetration backcourt.
Lower level guards such as Mario Chalmers, D.J. Augustin, Shelvin Mack and Ish Smith were all traded during the regular season. Maybe getting one of them wasn’t realistic, but a move of that elk could have been made.
They’ve had two players come on 10-day contracts in Thanasis Antetokounmpo and Jimmer Fredette and neither was given a chance to contribute in a meaningful way.
And the Fredette circus should have never been at MSG in the first place.
Jackson been content allowing Lou Amundson, Cleanthony Early and Vujacic eat up roster spots and not contribute in a positive way.
Jackson’s managing of the Knicks roster this season has lacked ingenuity and creativity.
Once the playoffs became unrealistic a smartly run team would have preserved Melo, experimented with an offense revolving around Porzingis and Grant’s skills, and used two or three roster spots to try to find cheap talent to add to the team gong forward.
The reason to be worried about Jackson has nothing to do with what his record is since being in charge of the Knicks. It’s quite the opposite – the bad record shows he understood what needed to be done in his first full year on the job. The roster is in a healthier place than where it was when Jackson took it over.
The question is with the decision-making and vision Jackson has demonstrated this season can he be trusted to be in charge of the Knicks going forward?
If Jackson isn’t able to set aside his ego in regards to the next coach and how the Knicks on court product should be shaped – what needs to happen is so painful I don’t have the will to even spell it out.