Move Along. Nothing to See Here. (And That’s Just Fine.)

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.


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Part-time blogger on the Knicks at and Seahawks at In my free time I hang out at the University of South Carolina and occasionally fill thirsty young minds with knowledge about various and sundry things related to consumer behavior and marketing.

9 thoughts to “Move Along. Nothing to See Here. (And That’s Just Fine.)”

  1. I’m a big fan of this perspective. I’m 100% on board.

    Phil Jackson can be maddeningly cryptic and sometimes he does stupid things. Only the first half of that sentence is particular to Phil Jackson. I would argue, should Phil eventually hire Rambis as head coach over all the available candidates, then it’s time to tell him to fuck back off to LA. In the meantime, it’s worth letting the thing play out. He seems inclined to be a bit dogmatic and a bit incestuous about his “Inner Circle,” but he’s also not blind, deaf, and dumb. It seems doubtful that he’d ignore the exit interviews, the continued pleas from Melo, the reality that free agents might shy away from Triangular orthodoxy in the person of Rambis, and a host of other things.

    I think the speed and volume of information has made the typical NY tabloid frenzy 100 times worse. You have a widening circle of hot take chefs that starts with the sociopaths at the Daily News, extends through the sycophants at the Post, and trickles out into the talk radiosphere, including ESPN. Conflict journalism is a thing. It has a name for a reason. The Knicks provide nothing, if not conflict….even in the absence of action.

  2. Yes, I don’t care how long it takes so long as it ends up with Rambis not the coach.

  3. @2
    If that was the plan, I strongly suspect that deal would have been done. Phil could have not only tapped Rambis, he could have put the whole gang back together: Shaw, Cleamons, Cartright, and Pete Meyers. Hell, he could go ahead and put Sasha and/or Atrest on that staff. It doesn’t look like that’s the play.

    At the same time, Phil is not gonna trash Rambis, his lieutenant and friend. I suspect that he wants the next coach to invite Rambis to the staff in a Herb Williams sort of capacity. I could not see Thibs agreeing to that, and my fear is that this could become a sticking point down the line. Will people feel like Rambis is the hall monitor?

  4. @1
    I am not sure that Phil is especially cliquish. He is no more cliquish than Pop. They’re all that way. It is the nature of the industry. Everything operates through friendship/professional networks. We just notice it with Phil because he is one of the central characters in league history.

    Put another way, no one is more cliquish than that Dean Smith/UNC group in the league, but other than Jordan, who gives a rats ass that those guys mostly only deal with each other?

  5. @4

    I don’t think Phil is “especially” cliquish, but it is true that he’s very particular about the temperament, personality, style, and philosophical orientation of his coach. He’s trying to hire someone like himself….which I’m not at all knocking….but given that there aren’t many people out there in the whole wide world like him, it seems like a very limiting thing to demand in a coaching hire.

    I don’t think any of us know for sure how other big name coach/execs circle the wagons and stay provincial with their hires. Phil has said a lot of things out loud that other people keep close to the vest, so it’s easy to pick at those things. It’s the very thing politicians desperately seek to avoid. “Making news” is saying something out loud that isn’t already a matter of record. Most sports people keep everything close to the vest, speak in platitudes and nonsense, and avoid “making news.” I don’t think that’s in Phil’s DNA.

    Again….I don’t have a problem with anything that’s going on. I like Phil a lot…more than most, I’d wager… The only thing that will instantly make me flip 180 on him is if Rambis ends up the coach. Other than that, I’m cool with everything.

  6. I’m really glad you wrote this post.

    People on here have been taking their skepticism up to 11 to the point of straight buggin’. Phil has said through interviews that basically while he endears to the triangle, the biggest goal is installing system basketball (this should be repeated everyday IMO until people get it and chill the hell out). Why are so many missing that, skipping over that, or interpret that to mean strictly TRIANGLE OR DIE!!! ?

    I’ve seen people have the audacity to judge Phil on his W/L record since he took over. That’s just asinine, and completely missing the point of A. why he’s here, and B. the VERY limited resources he’s had to start with. Nobody nails EVERY decision or hits EVERYTHING out of the park. He’s built a fairly flexible roster, he got Melo to play complete team ball and he drafted Porzingis. I can rest easy with that as a new starting foundation.

  7. If that was the plan, I strongly suspect that deal would have been done. Phil could have not only tapped Rambis, he could have put the whole gang back together

    Since no one is ever going to hire Rambis away, there is no rush to hire Rambis at all.

  8. This is the most reasonable thing I’ve read in a long time regarding Phil and the Knicks

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