Phil Jackson destroyed the stability he created with Knicks

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.

At Hardwood Paroxysm: Zen and the Art of Knickerbocker Maintenance

Morning, gang.  I’m excited to report that I posted my first piece for Hardwood Paroxysm today.  It deals, as you might expect, with the seemingly impending Phil Jackson hire, why it probably won’t work, and why it still might work.

Here’s some of it:

Where some billionaires buy art or cars or pricey new gadgets, Dolan buys Big Names. They are his vanity pieces. Their success and creativity qualifies them as things worthy of his possession, even his desire, but like any good vanity piece, they…well, it’s right there in the name. When that same success and creativity stop serving his vanity, when they instead challenge his vision of himself and his own place in the NBA pecking order, when they suggest a change in the obviously flawed direction in which Dolan and his coterie of yes-men and doormats have taken the Knicks, they cease to serve their purpose. Once that happens, they’re just high-paid, highly-visible reminders that lots of really smart people don’t think James Dolan is particularly capable of owning a winning NBA franchise. And then it’s over, just as it would be over if you hung a painting on your wall and all of a sudden it started talking to you when you had company over, telling you to get up off the couch and do a load of laundry and for the love of God call your parents every now and then.

Yes, this will probably fail. And yes, it’s still the right move.

Here’s the rest of it.

Happy reading and may your days be full of sunshine, smiles, and Buddhist executives.

 

Game Preview & Thread: Knicks vs. Hawks

A Wednesday night Hawks-Knicks early-season game is typically not a game either Knicks fans or Hawks fans too mark down on their calendars as a must-watch before the season starts. However, Knicks owner James Dolan made things interesting when he guaranteed a Knicks victory over the Hawks after the Knicks were torn apart by the San Antonio Spurs.

The Knicks have lost four of their last five contests and Tyson Chandler is going to miss significant time, but Dolan is confident his team is walking out of Atlanta with a victory. Trying to decipher why Dolan guaranteed a victory over the Hawks Wednesday night is not something I’d personally recommend; Dolan doesn’t have a filter, so all we can do is sit back, enjoy roll our eyes, and not dwell on it — unless you’re Mike Woodson.

Woodson is thinking about changing the starting lineup again and it appears Metta World Peace and J.R. Smith are the front-runners to be inserted into the rotation. I guess Smith’s 1-for-9 display on Sunday really showed Woodson something. Something.

The Hawks are coached by Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich’s long-time assistant Mike Budenholzer, so maybe that’s why Woodson is thinking about adjusting his starting lineup. The Hawks are second in the league in assists per game (28.0), which is something the Knicks have struggled with, averaging just 18.5 (24th). This past offseason the Hawks opted to let Josh Smith walk, replacing him with Paul Millsap. It’s paid off thus far — Millsap is averaging 20.9 points per 36 minutes (highest on the team). More importantly, Millsap is doing it at an efficient 60 percent TS% and 57.9 eFG%. The other Hawks big man, Al Horford, is averaging 20.5 points per 36 minutes.

Horford and Millsap have been great for the Hawks thus far, but the biggest reason why the team has been so good offensively is their point guard Jeff Teague’s progression as a passer. According to the new SportsVU data on NBA.com, Teague is creating 32.1 points per 48 minutes through his assists. Teague is also third in the league in assist opportunities per game averaging 19.0, per NBA.com.

So, if the Dolan’s guarantee of a Knicks victory over the Hawks is to come true it will mostly fall on whether or not the Knicks can stop Teague. If the first six games are any indication, that doesn’t seem to be very likely: Raymond Felton has had a rough start to the season on that front, and with the absence of Tyson Chandler, chances are it’s only going to get harder for Felton to get back on track. Felton has shot his best inside (51.9 percent in the restricted area), but is still shooting roughly four three-pointers a game and only making 24% of them. His counterpart tomorrow night isn’t exactly setting the roof on fire either from behind the three-point line — Teague is shooting 27 percent from three-point land — but he’s getting to the line six times per game and doubles Felton in the assists per 36 minutes (10-5) .

With the state the Knicks current frontcourt is in, the Knicks probably won’t be able to slow down Millsap and Horford Wednesday night, but maybe Woodson’s backcourt rotation choices will ultimately decide if Dolan’s guarantee comes true.

Report: Allan Houston to be next Knicks GM?

Jared Zwerling, one of Bleacher Report’s newest NBA writers, reported yesterday that the Knicks’ shocking decision to relieve Glenn Grunwald of his role earlier this week is, potentially, good news for former Knick and current assistant general manager Allan Houston.

According to Zwerling and his sources, the Knicks are likely grooming Houston to eventually take over for new GM Steve Mills in a couple of years.

This wouldn’t be a tremendous shock, considering Houston is the current Assistant GM, though that doesn’t make the abrupt Grunwald firing any less bizarre.

One of the sources Zwerling cites in the piece had this to say about Houston’s relationship with Knicks owner James Dolan.

“Dolan has always taken care of his former players, especially stars, which Allan was. I guarantee you he’s close to Allan just like Isiah Thomas and other former Knicks,”- Source #2.

We’ll probably never find out the real motivation behind the abrupt Grunwald dismissal by Dolan, but this might be the closest answer we get. Dolan is an odd guy, but he’s a guy who knows what he wants, and won’t hesitate to drastically change the course of the franchise to get it. If Zwerling’s source is accurate, and Houston’s relationship with Dolan is starting to mirror the one Isiah had(s), all the chaos this week will at least have some sort of rhyme or reason to it. On the surface, at least.

Houston has worked his way up the ladder under two very different GM’s with two very different philosophies in Grunwald and Donnie Walsh. He’s regarded highly by numerous players and executives, so perhaps Dolan zoning in on Houston being his guy to guide the franchise going forward won’t meet the same fate as the Isiah years.

Additionally, it might well be the case that Dolan — who nearly whiffed completely on the 2010 free agent class — wants to give Houston the position as the Knicks once again try and lure new stars to the Big Apple in 2015.

Lots of questions still remain, obviously, but the dust is certainly starting to settle. Maybe everything will be okay. Oh wait, it’s the Knicks, which means: PROCEED WITH CAUTION.

Isiah Thomas Out Again

This time it didn’t take a sexual harassment suit. He didn’t have to set the franchise back half a decade. Nor did one of James Dolan’s execs talk him out of it. This time the NBA front office stepped in, deeming Isiah Thomas’ dual role as FIU coach and Knicks consultant as a conflict of interest. Thomas has resigned from the Knicks (phew!) and Knicks owner James Dolan will have to find another way to pursue his man crush.

Ironically it was other teams who helped make this happen. According to the Post’s Marc Berman:

At least two NBA owners complained to the league immediately and several NBA executives thought it was bogus arrangement.

Unfortunately if Isiah Thomas leaves FIU and is free to join the NBA, I don’t think any other league owners will complain about him joining the Knicks again. Heck it’s probably in their best interests to encourage it. For the price of (arguably) a good amateur scout, the team would sully their brand (sexual harassment), give them bad press (local media would kill them over it), and alienate their current competent front office (Walsh was reportedly not happy with the move).

And What Rough Beast, Its Hour Come Round at Last, Slouches Towards Bethlehem to be Born?

It can’t be real, can it? It just can’t. Even though the last month of gossip, hearsay, false leads, misdirection should certainly have taught we intrepid fans that just because something appears in print (or online or via that evil tormentor, twitter), that doesn’t make it even vaguely approaching the truth. But like that hep cat Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Never were trued words uttered.

Because I clearly can’t learn the lesson above and neither can Guitar Jimmy Dolan. Take a look:

http://sports.espn.go.com/new-york/nba/news/story?id=5369726&campaign=rss&source=NEWYORKHeadlines

So pardon me whilst I completely freak the eff out and overreact as if the sumbitch was sighted w/his tentacles wrapped around the very girders of the Garden itself.

No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. Please, for the love of [insert deity of choice here], NO!

I mean, Dolan has to realize that no matter how much of a man-crush he has on Zeke, that he’d literally drive every Knicks fan to root for the Brooklyn Giant Russians.

I hate to say this, but I (gulp) might lead the charge. That’d be it. I can take draft picks that don’t work out. I can take sub-par trades. I can take gut-wrenching losses. I can take entire seasons dumped to clear cap space. I can take LeBrocalypse/MeBron deciding to sing Zach Galifinakis’s tune from, The Hangover” (“We’re the three best friends that anyone ever had!”) in perpetuity.

But not Isiah.

The fact that I have to type his accursed name leaves a pit in my stomach.

That’d be it.

You know, I was struck something watching the World Cup this past month. Overall, it was a generally pleasant experience. The play was, at times, truly awe-inspiring. The controversies when the refs made abominable calls reminded me that the NBA doesn’t hold the patent on incompetent and/or possibly corrupt officials. And there were a few moments of pure drama that rivaled anything in sport.

But I watched with a detachment that I certainly can’t do when viewing our beloved ‘Bockers. And seeing the maddening throng around me literally scream in soul-crushing anguish as the ball trickled one way or another was kind of, well, funny. After all, it’s just a game, right guys?

But of course, if it were the Nix of the 90’s squaring off against the Jordans or the Mournings or the Millers, I’d be bellowing louder than any of them. Because the thing is, a sporting event, without a profound emotional connection to one side or the other and the ensuing Manichean attributes one assigns them (We are the good, noble underdogs and They are the faceless, evil monolith/empire), is kinda, well…boring.  And the folks that devote all of their personal well-being to the results of said matches seem fairly silly and childish.

So maybe it’s time to step back. Breathe. Let all this go. Enjoy the occasional Knick game, but with a healthy sense of distance. For the moment, I’m taking Billy Murray’s diatribe from the classic (and still woefully underrated) flick, Meatballs, as my new mantra:

TRIPPER: And even if we win, if we win, HAH! Even if we win! Even if we play so far above our heads that our noses bleed for a week to ten days; even if God in Heaven above comes down and points his hand at our side of the field; even if every man woman and child held hands together and prayed for us to win, it just wouldn’t matter because all the really good looking girls would still go out with the guys from Mohawk because they’ve got all the money! It just doesn’t matter if we win or we lose. IT JUST DOESN’T MATTER!

IT JUST DOESN’T MATTER!

IT JUST DOESN’T MATTER!

IT JUST DOESN’T MATTER!

Oh who am I kidding.

Summer League game tomorrow. Let’s go Knicks!